In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Florida’s Senators are urging the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take more aggressive action to address public health concerns caused by the storm’s devastation in Puerto Rico, as access to electrical power, clean water, and vital medical supplies remain dangerously scarce.
Both Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) wrote strongly-worded letters to HHS Acting Secretary Eric Hargan expressing concerns about the slow progress of relief efforts and fears that the death toll would continue to rise unless immediate actions were taken.
Rubio’s letter begins with a focus on the risks posed by the lack of electrical power and clean water, and noting recent news reports that some water in Puerto Rico had been contaminated, exposing residents to dangerous bacterial infections. Rubio also expressed concern regarding distribution of vital medical treatments like dialysis and oxygen. Rubio stated that he has personally spoken with medical providers in Puerto Rico who are frustrated at the “incredible difficulties” getting these supplies distributed.
“While I understand your department has taken steps to prevent this, I am concerned that there has not been enough progress on a plan to provide a long-term solution so patients and officials are not constantly struggling with one crisis after another,” wrote Rubio, asking Hargan to “provide a complete update and assessment of the public health concerns still plaguing Puerto Rico” and “immediately clarify the conflicting information reported by government officials and media outlets.”
Puerto Ricans are suffering. I wrote to HHS this morning to ensure priority locations have the supplies they need most, incl. diesel. pic.twitter.com/c5RzGu0veg
— Bill Nelson (@SenBillNelson) October 13, 2017
Nelson posted his letter on Twitter earlier this afternoon. Like Rubio, he was concerned that only 10 percent of the island had power, at least 40 percent still lacked access to clean drinking water, and that the contaminated floodwaters were placing thousands at risk of dangerous, even deadly, infections.
“Many of the island’s most vulnerable residents remain in mortal peril,” wrote Nelson. “Individuals who depend on oxygen tanks, ventilators, and dialysis are dying or are at risk because of limited access to medically necessary services and fuel supplies to power generators.” The lack of diesel was a specific cause for concern, as it is needed both to power generators and to fuel vehicles to move supplies across the island.
Clearly stating that current efforts were “not enough,” Nelson urged Hargan to take “immediate steps to prevent further loss of life.”
“The situation is not improving, and Americans are dying,” wrote Nelson. “I urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to act before more people die and this becomes a full-blown crisis.”
Photo by National Guard via Flickr.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.