Doctor discusses USF Health relief efforts in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico

Tampa, Fla.  (Oct. 17) — Back from last week’s trip to Puerto Rico, USF Health’s Dr. Asa Oxner discussed her recent experience treating patients and assessing critical medical needs in outlying rural areas of the hurricane-ravaged island.

Dr. Oxner spoke with local news media outside the USF Health Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare.  She was joined by USF Health Director of Safety and Preparedness Don Mullins, who oversaw the Oct. 11 delivery to Puerto Rico of 1,500 pounds of USF Health-donated medications and supplies aboard a jet chartered by the Tampa Bay Rays for a medical humanitarian mission.

“We saw lots of devastation – power lines cut in half, laying across roads and homes, bridges down and roads full of debris,” Dr. Oxner said.

Dr. Asa Oxner of the USF Health Department of Internal Medicine speaks with local news media about ongoing USF Health disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico following her return from the island.

Dr. Oxner and Dr. Elimarys Perez-Colon, both assistant professors in the Morsani College of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, spent five days in Puerto Rico working out of hospitals and shelters in devastated rural areas of Puerto Rico.  They also assisted in sorting and delivering supplies and medicine, — including insulin, IV fluids and tubing, and specialized baby formula — donated by USF Health, Tampa General Hospital and other provider partners.

Hospitals in urban areas like San Juan and Ponce where power and water have been restored are rebounding, and most of those critically injured from the hurricane have been treated and are recovering, Dr. Oxner said.

“The long-term health concern is patients with chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and respiratory disorders who cannot access care,” she said.

They live in the central mountainous region of the island hit hardest by the hurricane, and mudslides continue to make many roads difficult to navigate, she added. “They will continue to have shortages in medications for chronic conditions, because the supply chain has been disrupted.”

A dozen cases of leptospirosis, a waterborne bacterial disease, have been reported to the Puerto Rico Department of Health, Dr. Oxner said, adding that the island is also at high risk for diseases like cholera that can emerge after disasters in places with contaminated water.

Dr. Oxner, who spent a year in 2014 helping patients infected with Ebola in Sierra Leone, has always been interested in helping underserved populations impacted by disparities in health care. “Those are the patients I connect with,” she said.

Dr. Oxner is one of 12 Spanish-speaking USF Health doctors, many with disaster experience, who will travel to Puerto Rico over the next two months. She plans to return to Puerto Rico at the end of October.

You can help with USF Health’s relief efforts in Puerto Rico.  Go to the USF Herd Funder site to contribute.

-Photo by Sandra C. Roa, University Communications and Marketing