1 year after Maria: Puerto Rico’s main pediatric hospital still hasn’t recovered

By Manuel Crespo Feliciano, Accuweather en Español staff writer
September 20, 2018, 12:07:26 PM EDT

After Hurricane Maria passed through Puerto Rico last year, the neonatal intensive care unit of the the Dr. Antonio Ortiz University Pediatric Hospital suffered significant damage: A window was torn off by the forces of the cyclone, letting water and winds rage inside the room. Since then, the patients have been in a "temporary" unit... for a year.

The pediatric hospital has had a slow restoration process, and it has been thanks to the work of non-profit organizations that they have managed to survive.

At the time of AccuWeather's visit in August 2018, you could see through the glass of the “temporary” unit, the small incubators amassed in the improvised space of intensive care for newborns that are battling between life and death.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is the only one in the country that offers level-four services to local patients and across the rest of the Caribbean islands. In addition, the hospital provides surgery and neurosurgery services, as well as intensive care for premature patients with a delicate clinical panel.

Pediatric Hospital Puerto Rico

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"It is not ideal, because it is not an intensive care unit, but what we try to do is have only the babies who have less complicated situations located in that place. Obviously, it is not the most convenient for the baby, nor the family," Neonatal Intensivist Dr. Inés García told AccuWeather.

For Dr. Garcia, this is not something new. In 1998, during the passage of Hurricane George on the island, the hospital suffered something similar, and the total reconstruction of the damage was extended until 2004, according to the doctor.

García told AccuWeather that the pediatric hospital was built in 1960, that it is an old building that has been remodeled and optimized over the years but, in its roots, it continues to be a fragile and susceptible structure to this type of disaster.

(Photo/Dr. Antonio Ortiz University Pediatric Hospital)

One of the windows in the NICU was torn off by the forces of the cyclone.

(Photo/Dr. Antonio Ortiz University Pediatric Hospital)

The building shows clear signs of deterioration, which puts the health of patients at risk.

(Photo/Dr. Antonio Ortiz University Pediatric Hospital)

One of the goals of Fundación Hospital Pediátrico is to seal the rooftop of the hospital.

(Photo/Dr. Antonio Ortiz University Pediatric Hospital)

Sealing the rooftop will help to protect the hospital in future atmospheric events.

Non-profit organization rebuilds “El Pediátrico”

The non-profit organization Fundación Hospital Pediátrico was born in 2014 when a group of doctors and volunteers joined forces to provide financial support to the hospital.

The foundation focuses on raising funds to make improvements to the physical plant of the hospital, donating equipment for monitoring and treatment of patients and intervening in initiatives that result in a better service to the children the hospital serves.

"After the hurricane, the organization has taken a more important role in the hospital," Karina Iglesias, treasurer of the organization, told AccuWeather.

When María impacted the island, the nonprofit concentrated its efforts in creating lists of needs that were sent to some of their partners in the United States to mobilize aid for the hospital and community.

Now, the efforts of the organization have been directed specifically to the reconstruction of the NICU and the repair of eight of the 12 elevators in the hospital. Currently, the foundation has managed to raise $400,000 with the help of donors from and outside of the island. However, this is well short of the amount needed for the reconstruction of the NICU and the reconstructions of other areas of the hospital.

Help pediatric hospital

Fundacion Hospital Pediátrico received over 30,000 pounds in equipment and supplies after Hurricane María impacted the island.

Over the years, the fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico has impacted the hospital with budget cuts. According to data from the Office of Management and Budget of Puerto Rico, the budget for the current fiscal year is around $54.5 million. The figure represents a reduction of 22 percent compared to the operational expenses of the hospital two years ago.

The hospital is being reconstructed inside-out, thanks to the efforts made by the doctors and volunteers of the foundation. Also, thanks to the contribution of foreign organizations such as Puerto Rico Rises - Connecticut Chapter, Texas United for Puerto Rico, Miami Children's Hospital, Yale Pediatrics, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital, Oregon Health, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Boston Children's Hospital, Mass General, St Mary's Hospital at West Palm Beach and Florida Hospital System.

If you wish to contribute to the reconstruction work of the hospital, you can make your donations here.

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