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#The Atlantic 2016 (Don’t Blame Trump): Puerto Rico’s Disaster Started Years before Hurricanes Maria & Irma

Posted by FactReal on September 14, 2018

PUERTO RICO WAS IN CRISIS LONG BEFORE THE 2017 HURRICANES…and before Trump became President

In May 2016, the left-wing publication The Atlantic sounded the alarm of the impending humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico…over a year before Hurricane Maria hit the island. Their article was titled “Will Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Spark a Humanitarian Disaster?”[1].

Summary by Bradley Blakeman at The Hill[2]:

In May 2016, just more than a year before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, the Atlantic published an article alleging that even without damages caused by hurricanes or storms Puerto Rico was heading for crisis with a huge human toll of man-made causes. Reporter Vann Newkirk cited the electric grid on the brink of collapse and schools with dangerous wiring and unstable construction. He also wrote about the island’s public health and its inferior healthcare facilities, noting that San Juan’s Centro Medico Hospital had to delay payments on debt to provide basic healthcare to patients. The medical director was quoted as saying, “We are hanging by a thread.”

It is important to understand that Puerto Rico was destined for humanitarian crisis and was in crisis long before Hurricane Maria.

FactReal’s Summary:
In May 2016, The Atlantic[1] described the precarious situation in Puerto Rico while covering the visit to the island by Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
At the San Juan’s Centro Medico hospital:

  • Administrators detailed both delayed funding from insurers and government sources, and how the hospital had to delay and prioritize payments to provide basic care for its patients. “We are hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Juan Nazario, executive director of the hospital. “Other things are left aside.”
  • It is difficult to remain solvent while providing affordable care for poorer populations.
  • Most of Puerto Rico’s residents are enrolled in Medicaid or other public insurance programs.
  • The Puerto Rican government is limited in its ability to pay for services and drugs that insurers don’t pick up or don’t pay for on time. These medical problems are compounded by the fact that the debt crisis itself is centered on Puerto Rico’s massive public-services providers, and as things have gotten worse, many hospitals have faced electricity or water shortages. Even the massive Centro Medico may not be safe from rolling blackouts if the territory continues to default.
  • The hospital’s youngest victims are suffering now… Dr. Marta Suarez, a pediatric nephrologist, explained how the hospital’s payment difficulties make it difficult to provide dialysis to combat neonatal kidney failure, a common danger of early infancy. “Suppliers have been waiting for payments for months and months,” she told Lew. “We hope we don’t get a complicated case.”
  • Zika threatens to cripple Puerto Rico, and the debt crisis and its inability to pay for immediate interventions are direct factors in the looming epidemic.
  • Hospitals are already overwhelmed with the different issues that Centro Medico physicians detailed, and they can barely cope with seasonal flu outbreaks, let alone a developing and little-known virus like Zika.
  • Schools such as Eleanor Roosevelt, with their crumbling infrastructure and pools of standing water, are ideal breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that spread Zika, and children are especially vulnerable targets. In the realms of health care and education, economic woes are most directly transfigured into human misery.

At the Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary:

  • Classroom had only one electrical outlet. Trying to run multiple devices––such as a television, air conditioner, or a fan––would trip the breaker. If multiple classrooms try using electricity together would cause the whole building’s power to fail.
  • Cracks in the wall.
  • Broken fans in the room.
  • Lack of basic science resources.
  • Some special-education services are delivered in a trailer with limited electricity.
  • Enrollment for special-needs children has increased, even while teachers equipped to instruct them have moved away.
  • School with its termite-riddled walls, tenuous electricity, and pools of standing water––perfect places for the mosquitoes that spread Zika to hide

Part of The Atlantic article of May 2016[1]: [Emphasis added]

Will Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Spark a Humanitarian Disaster?
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s trip to Puerto Rico highlights the human costs lurking behind every financial crisis.

VANN R. NEWKIRK II
MAY 13, 2016

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico –– Elizabeth Claudio pointed to the lone outlet in the wall of her classroom of fourth graders. She complained to [then] Puerto Rico Governor Alejandro García Padilla that it was the class’s only outlet and that running multiple devices––such as a television, air conditioner, or a fan––would trip the breaker and that multiple classrooms using electricity together would cause the whole building’s power to fail. She pointed to the cracks in the wall and the broken fans in the room, which already sweltered in early May as the humidity settled in like a blanket over an 83-degree day.

[Obama’s] Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew…was here to assess just what might happen if Puerto Rico’s debt crisis blooms into a full-on disaster.

The debt crisis in Puerto Rico has been discussed mostly in terms of its dire economic outlook, with wide-reaching consequences from potential defaults, including destabilized municipal-bond markets and litigation. The fallout could spread to the mainland, and it has already impacted the economy of states like Florida as a factor in mass emigration. […]

…García Padilla [had] no choice but to default on a $200 million payment of debts on May 2. That default has already weakened public services and utilities on the island, and another payment date of July 1 is even more ominous, with almost $2 billion at stake. […]

Unfortunately for the people of Puerto Rico, the debt crisis is just part of a long string of bad news. The commonwealth was poor long before the debt crisis, poorer than every state in both the 2000 and 2010 censuses. Despite historically and currently having high rates of coverage by public insurance, Puerto Rico sits near the bottom of many health metrics, and its Medicaid and Medicare programs are vastly underfunded compared with the States, costing the island millions of dollars. Healthy young people are emigrating from Puerto Rico in search of jobs, leaving behind disabled people, elderly people, and children. But the worst is yet to come. If things have been downhill recently, the potential July default represents a steep drop into a wide chasm, one that could have reverberating effects on how people on the island live.

[At the Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary,] Deborah Cruz teaches fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in one room and told Lew about the cracked walls and lack of basic science resources, such as test tubes. Special-education teacher Iris Rosario said there are almost 100 students who need special-education services at Eleanor Roosevelt, and some special-education services are delivered in a trailer with limited electricity. Rosario also described how enrollment for special-needs children has increased, even while teachers equipped to instruct them have moved away.

Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary is not an abstract idea in a debate between congresspersons across the Caribbean Sea, nor is it some far-off disaster in the making. The school, with its termite-riddled walls, tenuous electricity, and pools of standing water––perfect places for the mosquitoes that spread Zika to hide––is a real, current example of the humanitarian implications of Puerto Rico’s crumbling economy. “The human cost is not abstract,” Lew said after the visit. “At the school, we could see infrastructure that’s crumbling.”

Lew’s next visit to San Juan’s Centro Medico hospital laid bare the human costs even more. Administrators detailed both delayed funding from insurers and government sources, and how the hospital had to delay and prioritize payments to provide basic care for its patients. “We are hanging by a thread,” said Dr. Juan Nazario, executive director of the hospital. “Other things are left aside.”

Centro Medico’s plight is similar to those of many vulnerable safety-net hospitals on the mainland—but amplified. Simply put, it is difficult to remain solvent while providing affordable care for poorer populations and people of color, who tend to be the sickest and the least likely to have insurance. That problem becomes a predicament in itself in an entire commonwealth with so many poor people and people of color. While most of Puerto Rico’s residents are enrolled in Medicaid or other public insurance programs, the federal government has traditionally underpaid for each Puerto Rican enrollee as compared with those living in the States.

[T]he Puerto Rican government is limited in its ability to pay for services and drugs that insurers don’t pick up or don’t pay for on time. These medical problems are compounded by the fact that the debt crisis itself is centered on Puerto Rico’s massive public-services providers, and as things have gotten worse, many hospitals have faced electricity or water shortages. Even the massive Centro Medico may not be safe from rolling blackouts if the territory continues to default.

Even before any future potential defaults, the hospital’s youngest victims are suffering now… Dr. Marta Suarez, a pediatric nephrologist, explained how the hospital’s payment difficulties make it difficult to provide dialysis to combat neonatal kidney failure, a common danger of early infancy. “Suppliers have been waiting for payments for months and months,” she told Lew. “We hope we don’t get a complicated case.” … After his tour of Centro Medico, Lew [said] “The mounting debt crisis is clearly a financing problem …[and] it’s a human crisis as well.”

Zika threatens to cripple Puerto Rico, and the debt crisis and its inability to pay for immediate interventions are direct factors in the looming epidemic. Hospitals are already overwhelmed with the different issues that Centro Medico physicians detailed, and they can barely cope with seasonal flu outbreaks, let alone a developing and little-known virus like Zika. Schools such as Eleanor Roosevelt, with their crumbling infrastructure and pools of standing water, are ideal breeding grounds for the mosquitoes that spread Zika, and children are especially vulnerable targets. In the realms of health care and education, economic woes are most directly transfigured into human misery.

SOURCES:
[1] The Atlantic: Will Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis Spark a Humanitarian Disaster? (MAY 13, 2016)
#https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/05/puerto-rico-treasury-visit/482562/
[2] The Hill: Puerto Rico was a disaster long before Maria ravaged the island (10/03/17)
#http://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/353506-puerto-rico-was-a-disaster-long-before-maria-ravaged-the-island

RELATED:
ABC NEWS 2017 (Trump is Right): Puerto Rico Power Grid Falling Apart before Maria Hit
REUTERS 2017 (Trump is Right): The Bankrupt Utility behind Puerto Rico’s Power Crisis … before Hurricane Maria
WASHINGTON POST 2017 (Trump is Right): Hurricane Maria’s Blow to Puerto Rico’s Bankrupt Utility and Fragile Electric Grid
LA TIMES 2017 (Trump is Right): Puerto Rico’s Power Grid on Life Support long before the 2017 Hurricanes
CNBC 2015 (Trump is Right): Infrastructure: Another problem Puerto Rico doesn’t need

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