May 28 — SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A 3-year-old boy was pronounced dead Wednesday night at the provisional medical clinic in Vieques, a Puerto Rico island municipality that has no hospital since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017 , and where another child died in a similar case last year.
A police report indicated that the boy’s mother, Fransheska Rivera, took him to the Center for Diagnosis and Treatment (known by its Spanish acronym CDT). The doctors then referred the minor to a hospital in the city of Fajardo, in the Puerto Rican territory itself. But on the way to the airport the boy got worse, and Rivera ran back to the CDT. He was reported dead at 10:35 p.m. by the same doctors who had treated him shortly before, police said. Sources close to the immediate family said the baby had gastrointestinal symptoms.
Vieques residents say the boy’s death is one more tragedy that underscores the lack of a hospital on an island of about 8,300 people and that the state and federal governments have not built a medical center more than three years after the hurricane. Maria will cause an estimated $ 90 billion in damage and leave thousands dead. With the start of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season just days away amid the coronavirus pandemic, Puerto Ricans fear that local authorities are not ready for possible threats. storms.
“We do not have a hospital. Our request has always been a hospital because we are human beings. We do not want any family to go through the pain we go through. And today a family is going through that pain,” said Denisse Ventura, whose niece of 13 years, Jaideliz Moreno, died in the same CDT last year. Moreno died in January 2020 after a failed attempt to transport her to a hospital on the main island. On Thursday, Ventura and other residents denounced the latest death as yet another example of the devastating consequences they experience due to lack of access to health care and other basic services.
“We have an emergency room that works with the little things it has, it is in an improvised place, a shelter, and it does not cover all the needs that an emergency room could have like yesterday’s situation,” said Zaida Torres Rodríguez, a Retired nurse and community leader who is friends with the boy’s grandmother.
The 66-year-old woman, a former cancer patient who lost her daughter and mother to the disease and whose husband survived prostate cancer, added: “The federal and state governments have lead in their feet, they don’t care. the health of Vieques, that is definitive. And when you deny a people the services of movement, you are violating their rights. “
On the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the COVID-19 vaccine brings relief and anger at the same time. Hurricane María devastated Vieques in 2017, leaving the municipality without power for more than a year and flooding the Susana Centeno Family Health Center. The interim CDT was established in a former hurricane shelter to replace the city’s devastated hospital. However, the temporary clinic has limited capacity, there are no intensive care units or delivery room. Large numbers of Vieques residents are elderly, and many suffer from chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, at higher rates than their counterparts in the rest of Puerto Rico. For more advanced treatment, such as strokes or heart attacks, patients have to be transferred to the main island.
However, transportation in and out of Vieques is unreliable, and some patients who need immediate care take commercial airplanes without medical equipment. Vieques
Shortly after Jaideliz’s death, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it would provide Puerto Rico with $ 39.5 million to replace the devastated hospital. Construction has not yet started. In April, Governor Pedro Pierluisi announced that the government was seeking conceptual design plans for the facility, and that it was spending $ 1 million to begin work.
“We can’t wait another minute,” Ventura said, “How many more deaths? We already lost Jaideliz. Wasn’t that enough?” Moreno’s family sued the Puerto Rican government in January, alleging human and civil rights violations due to the lack of services available on the island-municipality. The Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism reported Thursday that the island’s government is trying to dismiss the lawsuit.
The mayor of Vieques, José Corcino, asks that the death of the 3-year-old boy, identified as Yan Hill Rivera, be investigated. Corcino did not return multiple requests for comment from the Miami Herald, but had previously said that he expects construction on the hospital to begin early next year.
The children’s remains were ordered to be sent to the Puerto Rico Forensic Institute for study.
The Hill Rivera family refused to speak publicly, requesting space as they mourned the loss of the child. But their community is ready to support them, said Elda Guadalupe, a teacher and community leader whose family has a long history of activism in Vieques.
“The community is united. Even if we don’t know each other well, we can all feel the pain. It is like a constant reminder that we are at the mercy of a health system that when we need it most, it is not there,” Guadalupe said. “We mourn all those losses”,
Guadalupe, echoing other Viequenses interviewed, said that Jaideliz and Yan are among the many lost by an insufficient medical system in Vieques, which cannot respond to the basic needs of the inhabitants.
“They are not the only ones and they will not be the last,” he said.