FEMA Slashes $21M from the Initial Cost Estimate of the Vieques Medical Facility

The death of a teenager in Vieques whose relatives recounted how she died due to lack of medical services there, unleashed the rage of the residents of Isla Nena a week ago. The Viequenses brought cement blocks to the public square, as a protest art installation of sorts, demanding the construction of a proper hospital to provide health services to the island municipality some nine miles off the East coast of Puerto Rico. A few days later, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in an effort to neutralize criticism of its bureaucracy, announced the obligation of about $39.5 million for the reconstruction of the Vieques Susana Centeno Family Health Center destroyed by Hurricane María. FEMA has been evaluating this project since October 2018, although as of February of that same year it had already conducted a study that revealed the presence of different types of mold in the installation that represent a health risk for people with compromised immune systems. The study pointed to the need to replace the structure. FEMA, the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3), and the Municipality of Vieques announced last week that they agreed that the project’s estimated cost would be $49,323,985.

FEMA Stalls Health Center for Vieques

The successions of bureaucratic setbacks for the reconstruction of the Vieques health center includes false information from the Resident Commissioner and FEMA’s insistence to reverse its own decisions and repeat studies that have already been completed. An elderly woman who dies from complications from diabetes that has been poorly treated, a young athlete who got hurt and cannot be evaluated with x-rays, a community leader with cancer who has to travel on a dirty cot in the back of a plane because, in Vieques, they cannot tend to complications due to surgery, a sick newborn who is transferred by helicopter in an emergency because there is no equipment on the island municipality to monitor his oxygenation, women who have to plan their deliveries and end up doing c-sections because they can no longer give birth in Vieques. They are all victims of the lack of adequate medical services in Vieques, a municipality nine miles East of the “big island” of Puerto Rico, aggravated after Hurricane María destroyed the only Diagnostic and Treatment Center (CDT, in Spanish), and a maritime transportation system that barely works. Some basic services have been temporarily reestablished in a school that served as a shelter. But the health care needs of the “Viequenses” require a permanent medical facility, better than the one there was two years ago, which was already precarious.

A Guide to Understanding the Bureaucracy of “Recovery” in Puerto Rico

When the wind slowed down on September 20, 2017, Puerto Ricans went outside their homes, walked through their neighborhoods, made their way through the rubble and began to account for their losses. Estimates in dollars and cents of what Hurricane María destroyed would take a while. A generalized sense of uncertainty and doom was everywhere. A day later, while then governor Ricardo Rosselló assessed the conditions in which the island was left, Cándida González, a linguist, went to see what remained of the house that her first son’s father had built more than 30 years ago, and found it destroyed. On the eastern part of the island, Josué Ruiz, a university student and part-time employee, was traveling from his father-in-law’s house in Las Piedras to Punta Santiago, in Humacao, on the eastern side of the island where he lives with his wife, Natalie Torres, and their three children.