Puerto Rico’s Healthcare Industry Still Slowly Recovering from Maria’s Wrath

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Original story posted on: December 4, 2017
Healthcare billing professional operating in storm-torn territory details unique challenges left behind by Hurricane Maria.

It was an unusual sight for any hospital in any part of the world, let alone a major hospital in a U.S. territory: a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) surgeon preparing to go to work while outfitted with a flashlight attached to his scrubs.

It’s not like he had much of a choice: minutes earlier, while he prepared for surgery, the lights went out. Again.

It’s just one of countless tales Lorraine M. Martinez with Inmediata, a healthcare billing and reimbursement company operating in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, has to tell regarding the long and winding road to recovery following the landfall of Hurricane Maria about 10 weeks ago. The island has made strides toward returning to normalcy, she said, but there’s still a long way to go.

“It’s been over two months … and 42 percent of citizens are struggling with lack of electricity and hundreds of thousands still do not have running water,” Martinez said during the most recent edition of Talk-Ten-Tuesdays. “A great amount of our citizens are still relying on generators, because it is uncertain when power will come back. The same is true for hospitals and other medical institutions. Power was restored to some of them, but frequent outages (persist) due to a fragile electrical grid.”

Local media outlets are reporting that the conditions have exacerbated many common health conditions, such as diabetes, Martinez added. Another problem is that damaged buildings have started to grow mold and collect other dangerous airborne bacteria and pathogens.

Trying to focus on billing in such conditions is a daunting task.

“We create technology for the administration of healthcare services. Although we started working the week after Hurricane Maria, we couldn’t have done it without the help of a generator. The generator is still essential to our daily work,” Martinez said. “Many of our employees are still working on a business continuity plan, and our sales department has even gone to the streets, door to door, to make that sure we reach out to all of our clients in the medical billing industry. Once we get in touch with them, we provide options like visiting our facility … and putting them in touch with some of our partners who have lent their spaces for our clients to work. This way they can keep working and processing their claims with some normalcy.”

And that’s just the average workday.

“For me it was heartbreaking to see those pictures (of destruction) all over social media, but it was also a reminder of how much that still needs to be done to save Puerto Rican lives,” Martinez said. “There is a lot of concern about the future, but there is not a single doubt about our community and our people when they come together to work for the same goal. That’s what makes us move forward, even if it’s just baby steps (right now).”
Mark Spivey

Mark Spivey is a national correspondent for ICDmonitor.com who has been writing on numerous topics facing the nation’s healthcare system (and federal oversight of it) for five years. 

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