Just two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Puerto Rico with a glancing blow that killed nine people and left 1 million without power, Hurricane Maria steamrolled the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, leaving 48 dead and severely damaging the island's electric grid and transportation network.
Florida Hospital in Orlando, Fla., wasted no time dispatching emergency medicine physicians to aid Puerto Rico and its 3.4 million U.S. citizens. The doctors’ travel was subsidized by the Florida Hospital Foundation, which also collected donations for Puerto Rico relief efforts and arranged for a squadron of private airplanes to shuttle people and supplies from Orlando to San Juan.
Florida Hospital has plenty of experience running overseas medical relief efforts, says Daryl Tol, president and CEO of the hospital and the Central Florida region of Adventist Health System.
“We have a full-time team called a Global Missions Team, and we actually have footprints in countries all over the world where we support health care needs for long periods of time,” says Tol. “We have been on the ground in Haiti ever since the 2010 earthquake.”
Florida Hospital even persuaded its vendors to help Puerto Rico, resulting in a donation of four desperately needed ultrasound machines that were flown to the island. Many Florida Hospital doctors were also eager to pitch in. “We do have a large number of physicians who know Puerto Rico well, or have lived there,” Tol explains. “Many of our staff are from Puerto Rico.”
The chief resident in Florida Hospital’s emergency department, Julian Trivino, D.O., and three of his colleagues spent several weeks in Aguadilla, a town of 60,000 on Puerto Rico’s northwestern tip. “Florida Hospital Foundation provided us with the financial backing to get a hotel there and rent a vehicle, and distribute medications we brought that the foundation provided,” Trivino says. The focus of his team was Hospital Buen Samaritano (Good Samaritan Hospital), a 150-bed general medical and surgical facility with a 30-bed emergency department.
“We found this hospital on the brink of closing. They were running out of diesel to run their generator, they were out of potable water, and the temperature inside was between 91 and 99 (degrees),” recalls Trivino. “Physicians were overworked, and most of them didn’t have water or power at home. Everybody’s morale was at rock bottom.”
Trivino treated a steady stream of patients who had run out of medicines for chronic ailments such as diabetes, and also saw numerous machete injuries sustained by individuals clearing hurricane debris. “It’s very rewarding to know that as physicians we work for a company that cares about more than just the bottom line,” Trivino says.
Tol notes that Florida Hospital is also delivering health care in Peru, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Assisting Puerto Rico “is part of our DNA, it’s part of how our organization extends our mission,” he says. “It’s not just a short-term reaction to a short-term event.”