When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit in September, they ravaged the medical systems that aid those who face challenges seeking medical care. Project HOPE is reaching out with remote medical units in coordination with municipalities and the Department of Health, to target and assist the isolated, indigent and vulnerable populations.
Homebound, bedridden and terminal patients have gone months without professional medical assistance and in this aspect, the pre-Maria system is behind in recovery. Families we visited have proven resilient. However, without electricity, access to prescriptions, or needed medical interventions, even the most diligent family caretakers will become overwhelmed. The remote medical units bring hope and a reminder that family caretakers and patients are not alone.
The daughter and primary caretaker of a patient we saw summed it up well when she said, “She will die in time, but I want to make sure she is comfortable and lives with dignity. She is my mom, I have to take care of her like she did (for her parents), but without the nurse I don't know if what I do is right.”
The remote medical units are an impressive collaboration of inter-agency action.
In order to get to homebound patients, HOPE collaborates with local agencies to identify those in need and how to reach them.
- At FEMA events, local leaders collect the names of homebound patients.
- Local hospitals and the Department of Health coordinate with Project HOPE to plan house calls.
- Local municipality representatives help provide transportation to get HOPE volunteers to the people in need of medical care.
Visiting homebound patients is a logistical challenge because patients are spread out over miles of treacherous mountain roads, but the value is irreplaceable. One patient the team met was cared for by her daughter and neighbor. “They have done a great job since the storm” HOPE nurse Olinda Spitzer said. “Without running water or electricity they kept everything clean and the patient without bedsores.”
However, it wasn’t until Project HOPE’s team arrived that the caretakers were able to get needed refills on prescriptions and help relieving one of the patient’s issues. When Dr. Elisabeth Poorman arrived with the remote medical unit, she assessed that the strength of steroid cream being used to treat the patient’s pressure ulcers was too strong and actually burning her fragile skin. A simple, but needed correction brought relief and comfort to a mother and daughter.
As acute emergency medical needs wane in Puerto Rico, HOPE’s approach to providing care for chronic needs is helping bring a return to normalcy on the island. “Our hospitals and pharmacies are good again, but we do not have the resources to reach all of the communities in the mountains,” a Department of Health official said recently. “That is why we are very thankful to work with Project HOPE.”
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