Puerto Rico Devastation: How You Can Help

The devastating hurricanes, most recently in Puerto Rico, have prompted many of you to ask, “How can I help?”

Last month, Hurricane Maria made direct landfall on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, leaving millions of U.S. citizens in desperate need of immediate and substantial assistance. The hurricane came just two weeks after Hurricane Irma hit parts of the islands and caused extended damage in Florida. Hurricane Harvey also devastated parts of Texas after record rain and continued flooding. In some areas, the road to recovery for the impacted communities will take years. In particular, Puerto Rico is in the midst of what local officials have described as a full-blown humanitarian crisis, with devastation they say is “apocalyptic.”[1] Over three million Americans are without power or electricity, running water, and most communication or cell services. Many have lost their homes. The repercussions will be ongoing.

Orthopaedic surgeons are especially well-positioned to want – and be able – to help. Indeed, the honored ideals of the medical profession imply that the responsibility of the orthopaedic surgeon extends not only to the individual but also to society as a whole.[2] AAOS leadership has been in contact with Puerto Rico’s Board of Councilors (BOC) representative and others. We have heard from them what many others have been saying: those on the ground are doing as much as they can with what they have, but substantially more assistance and attention is needed. Here’s how you can help.

Contact Congress: On October 4, the Trump Administration officially asked Congress for $29 billion in disaster aid to help Puerto Rico and other areas (the formal funding request must be made before Congress can act).[3] The funds would help rebuild infrastructure and homes, and start to rebuild the electrical grid. House Speaker Paul Ryan has said Congress is working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to the islands, but it is not immediately clear how and when the relief request will be taken up by legislators. Members of Congress have also indicated that more rounds of funding will be needed. For now, it is up to Congress to move this initial funding request as soon as possible.

Visit www.senate.gov/senators/contact/ to find your senators and www.house.gov/representatives/ to find your representative (look for the “Find Your Representative” box to enter your zip code). Or visit advocacy.aaos.org/getinvolved and enter your zip code in the box under “Find Your Elected Officials.”

Call, email if you can, or even tweet your elected representatives or their staff, expressing your thoughts or support for quick action on disaster relief funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and others impacted this hurricane season.

Spread the Word: Because of the loss of power and infrastructure, much of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean isn’t able to ask for help. They also have a limited voice in Congress. You can help by spreading the word of the need and ways to get involved in the relief efforts.

Give: Funding is always an option, but before making donations, be sure to do your own research to make sure your dollars go as far as they possibly can in the right direction. Visit Charity Navigator to learn more about specific organizations and determine if they are trustworthy.

Equipment/Supplies: The University Pediatric Hospital in Puerto Rico (HOPU) is in need of life-saving items and medical supplies. They are working with Fundación Hospital Pediatrico to coordinate medical donations. The contact person for Fundación Hospital Pediatrico is its Executive Director Beatriz Garcia (787-525-5467) and Karina Iglesias (787-644-6566). You can also contact Dr. Jorge Zequeira of the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine at (787) 403-9370 or jorge.zequeira@upr.edu. For more information on the Foundation, you can access www.fundacionhospitalpediatrico.org.

Volunteer: According to those on the ground in Puerto Rico, there is sufficient manpower to address the situation when the services/equipment needs are met. However, there will undoubtedly be need in the future – if not in Puerto Rico for this crisis, then elsewhere at another time. AAOS members' unparalleled response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake prompted the creation of a formal disaster preparedness plan. Together with the Orthopaedic Trauma Association (OTA) and the Society of Military Orthopaedic Surgeons (SOMOS), AAOS developed a disaster preparedness plan to enable an effective and efficient volunteer response when a disaster strikes and the orthopaedic community is called upon to help. For more information, visit: www.aaos.org/membership/volunteer/disasterprep/.

Feel free to email dc@aaos.org with any other questions, concerns, or thoughts.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/24/americas/hurricane-maria-puerto-rico-aftermath/index.html


[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/04/us/politics/trump-hurricane-relief-request-flood-insurance.html