How do you fully recover from a Category 5 storm? And plan for the next one? Those are the questions Puerto Rico’s hospital leaders continue to ask five months after Hurricane Maria’s 155-miles-per hour winds left the island’s health system on life support. 

I recently visited some of our Puerto Rico hospital colleagues to understand their long-term needs – part of the AHA’s collaboration with the Greater New York Hospital Association, and Healthcare Association of New York State to identify ways the field can aid in this health care community’s long-term recovery and return to normal operations.


Progress towards recovery varies, depending on where you are in the island. But many are still struggling to get back on their feet.


Ryder Hospital, a more than 100-year-old hospital in Humacao on the eastern coast, is one of them. About 45 miles from the capital of San Juan, Humacao has been one of the last cities to receive help, even though it’s where Maria got its start.


About half of the town still lacks power. The hospital operates on about 25% of its full capacity, with four of its six floors still closed. It is using its skilled nursing facility to house 40 inpatient beds.   


The hospital leaders we talked to are looking for any type of technical assistance to help them in their long-term recovery. Categories include: health care planning (strategist), hospital finance/revenue cycle; emergency preparedness; clinical operations/health care quality; supply chain; hospital engineering; and human resources/personnel (workforce planning). Insurance adjustments and claims to cover the needed repairs are another priority as hospitals continue the rebuilding and recovery process.


In the days and weeks following the storm, thousands of hospital workers held the line, endured the wind and survived the deluge to care for patients. Many suffered devastating losses of their own, yet continued caring for their patients and neighbors. That’s resilience. 


We will not forget those who have done so much to help so many. As part of our efforts, the AHA activated The Care Fund to provide support to hospital employees in Puerto Rico affected by the storms.  

Of course, hospital caregivers see such dedication every day. When Americans follow that blue and white ‘H’ sign, they expect and deserve the best health care in the world … they expect curing, caring and compassion. That is the promise we make to our communities.


And that is why we were in Puerto Rico … to reassure our island colleagues that we will do everything we can to help hospitals still affected by the storm keep that promise.