Where We Work

Puerto Rico

The Category 5 storm Hurricane Irma hit the Atlantic basin the week of September 5, 2017, maintaining maximum intensity for 37 hours and leaving 1 million people in Puerto Rico without power.

Less than two weeks later, Hurricane Maria followed. Both storms were catastrophic to the island, home to 3.4 million U.S. citizens—leveling homes, destroying health facilities and damaging critical infrastructure. It took nearly a year to restore electric power to all the homes and businesses following the storms, which took out 80% of all power lines and flooded most of the island’s generators.

International Medical Corps arrived in Puerto Rico within days of Hurricane Maria and today continues recovery work in collaboration with La Asociación de Salud Primaria de Puerto Rico (ASPPR), a network of 76 health clinics focused on providing care to low-income families across the island. We are currently working on a long-term project to strengthen the island’s emergency response system. In December 2017, we expanded our efforts to help Puerto Ricans access healthcare through mobile medical units, which are providing home visits for patients in hard-hit communities who are unable to travel to health facilities for treatment.

Our work today includes supporting mobile medical units and providing power, clean water and communications, while working to strengthen the island’s emergency response system.

Puerto Rico is home to 3.4 million U.S. residents
Close to half of Puerto Rico’s residents live at or below the federal poverty level

Hurricane Maria: A look back at our Puerto Rico response

The Challenges

It took nearly a full year to restore electric power to all parts of the island

Accessing clean water has been difficult, increasing the risk of disease

Health facilities and other critical infrastructure suffered severe damage

Our Response

Primary Healthcare

Primary healthcare became harder to access in the aftermath of the hurricanes, as demand for urgent care spiked, crowding out time for treatment of more routine chronic conditions. International Medical Corps addressed this gap by partnering with five federally qualified health centers in Puerto Rico to increase community outreach in remote areas. In total, we deployed 20 volunteer doctors and nurses in six teams to support mobile medical centers across the island, providing consultations for nearly 1,000 patients in 46 municipalities, known as barrios. This support also helped give local health workers—many of whom had been responding nonstop since the storms hit—a break.

Disaster Recovery

Puerto Rico’s power supply was fully restored only recently, nearly a year after Hurricane Maria hit—and it remains fragile. Many health clinics resorted to limiting their hours of operation or providing care in smaller spaces that can be powered by a portable generator. Our support included supplying generators and water bladders to six health facilities, enabling them to restore electricity and provide clean drinking water at the health centers.

In total, International Medical Corps provided 2,361 hours of electrical power to health facilities, representing 290 days of operation across the island. We also provided small grants to 45 health centers to enable them to meet needs unique to their location, including purchasing and installing solar energy backups for cold-chain medical supplies and providing recovery cash grants to staff to ensure continuity in care.

Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH)

Without electricity, Puerto Rico’s residents were unable to pump water into their homes for cooking, bathing or toilet-flushing. Though water services have largely been restored, significant health concerns remain, due to a lack of reliable drinking water in several municipalities. International Medical Corps has provided 500-gallon capacity water bladders to six health facilities to help increase access to potable water. We have also distributed nearly 15,000 hygiene kits, as well as wound care kits, solar lights and other supplies, to help families stay healthy in the aftermath of the hurricane.

Nutrition

The damage to Puerto Rico’s power and water infrastructure hit nursing women with infants and young children particularly hard. To address these concerns, International Medical Corps worked with the Department of Health to launch a program promoting healthy infant and young-child feeding (IYCF) practices. Through our two local partners, La Liga de La Leche and Alimentacion Segura Infantil, we have provided individual breastfeeding counseling and facilitated mother support-group sessions. To increase community support and adoption of IYCF practices, International Medical Corps is raising awareness in the community through workshops, radio spots and social media content that focus on the life-saving effects of breastfeeding.

Long Term Capacity Building

International Medical Corps continues to support the health and medical needs of Puerto Ricans still struggling to recover from the hurricanes, working to ensure a stronger, safer island. Together with the Primary Care Association of Puerto Rico (ASPPR), we have embarked on a $1.3 million, 13-month program to integrate community health centers into the island’s emergency response system, as a critical step to reduce the deaths and injuries that could occur in future disasters. We are assisting ASPPR with funding to hire full-time emergency managers who can create an emergency preparedness program that will benefit all member health centers and deliver mental health training to healthcare workers.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS)

Following Puerto Rico’s hurricanes, International Medical Corps completed an MHPSS needs assessment to identify existing services and evaluate the extent of mental health needs. During the emergency phase, International Medical Corps found that local staff in Puerto Rico had limited training on how to provide MHPSS to distressed populations in post-disaster contexts. Subsequently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the PRDoH and government stakeholders in San Juan Municipality requested that International Medical Corps lead psychosocial support training. These training sessions teach mental health professionals and non-professionals how to provide compassionate emotional and practical support for people who have been exposed to a distressing event. To date, International Medical Corps has trained 246 individuals throughout Puerto Rico, including health staff and community members, in psychological first aid (PFA).

Using a community-based approach, International Medical Corps also conducts awareness sessions focused on psychoeducation for emotional regulation, suicide prevention and crisis-coping skills, and supports referrals when higher levels of care are needed. To date, International Medical Corps has reached 121 individuals, including older adults, community leaders and youth through this program.

We Were There: Hurricanes in the Caribbean

Hurricane Irma was recorded as the 11th most intense hurricane in the Atlantic basin, maintaining maximum intensity for 37 hours and hitting the Caribbean the week of September 5th. Hurricane Maria followed less than two weeks later, traveling over Dominica on September 18th as a Category 5 storm, and later over Puerto Rico on September 20th.

Read more about our response

Our Impact

Impacted 202,408 patients
Assisted 831 local health clinic staff
Supported 45 health centers

With Water, Power Still a Constant Struggle, International Medical Corps Helps Puerto Rico’s Health Clinics Recover

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