Community health centers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) are open but many are operating under hardship conditions, according to a new report based on a comprehensive survey by the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative at the George Washington University (GW) Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH). The regions’ 23 health centers have played a crucial role in the recovery efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria but are vulnerable as the next hurricane season approaches.
[Photo: Ms. Sara Rosenbaum]
Presently, the health centers operate 99 sites, with 93 in Puerto Rico and six in the USVI. At the time of the survey, 91 percent of health center sites were open and operating at full capacity and with a full complement of services. The remaining 9 percent were open, but at partial capacity or with a more limited range of services. All health centers reported that general primary care services, medical records, and community outreach services are fully restored at all sites that provided these services before the hurricanes. But more than four in 10 health centers reported that specialty care services, emergency department services, and night and weekend hours were available at only some sites that provided them prior to the hurricanes. Health centers also reported the top challenges facing their staff: 70 percent reported workers losing homes and 57 percent reported transportation problems and road conditions as top three challenges.
“The community health centers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have done a remarkable job of rebuilding and finding ways to remain in operation under challenging conditions,” said Ms. Sara Rosenbaum, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy and founder of the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy at the Milken Institute SPH. “However, the centers, as well as their employees and the populations they serve, remain vulnerable as the next hurricane season approaches for a number of reasons. Limited health care access, hazardous living conditions, and heightened risk of infectious disease and mental health concerns put both providers and patients at greater risk.”