The Program to Deal with Housing Needs in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María Lingers in a Limbo

María Pérez-Ramos never imagined that the land ceded by the former mayor of Canovanas, José “Chemo” Soto, in the San Isidro community 19 years ago, was flood-prone. Had she known, she would not have accepted it, she said. Now, all she wants is to move to a safe place where she doesn’t have to be afraid when hurricane season arrives in the summer. “This is no life,” said Pérez-Ramos, who requested aid from the Housing Department’s Repair, Reconstruction and Relocation (R3) Program immediately after they open for applications, hoping to be relocated. Four months after applying, she still doesn’t know which of the three types of assistance she will get from the program that closed its application process in December.

En el limbo programa que atendería las viviendas afectadas por el huracán María en Puerto Rico

La Gobernadora asegura que la prioridad del programa R3 es la reconstrucción y la reparación de viviendas, pero este representa una amenaza de desplazamientos al impedir la construcción en zonas inundables y no ofrecer como opción reducir los riesgos en las comunidades, porque los fondos federales para ello no han llegado. Dos años y medio después del desastre, el principal programa de recuperación de viviendas no ha reubicado a nadie.

Government dismisses need to plan a response to massive trauma cases

Despite how crucial it is to immediately respond to traumas after an earthquake, Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado said there is no formal plan or instructions, nor are they needed, for a massive response to trauma because doctors, as part of their training, know what to do in case of emergencies, aside from the fact that each hospital has its own strategy for that. Experts interviewed by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) differ from Rodríguez-Mercado. And his deputy in charge of the Río Piedras Medical Center, the executive director of the Health Services Administration (ASEM, in Spanish), Jorge Matta-González, disagreed with him. 

“All doctors are trained on what to do in times of emergency, hurricanes, mass casualties, all these problems. In an emergency such as an earthquake, the most commonly seen cases are orthopedics and neurosurgery,” said the Secretary in an interview with Radio Isla. His comments came after the CPI revealed that he had not shared a plan or instructions with his medical trauma team to handle possible massive number of cases after a major catastrophe following the earthquakes that have been rattling Puerto Rico for the past several weeks. 

The head of the Health Department has not not reach out to Trauma Center Director Pablo Rodríguez-Ortiz, who said he was unaware of this administration’s strategy to attend to an unexpectedly high volume of patients or the resources available for that. Rodríguez-Mercado also failed to inform Rodríguez-Ortiz about the current written plan, namely the Public Health and Medical Services Emergency Management Operational Plan.

Facing the risk of new earthquakes, Puerto Rico lacks a coordinated massive response plan for trauma emergencies

The greatest immediate death threat after earthquakes, such as those Puerto Rico has experienced for more than two weeks, are traumas that people may be exposed to in the face of a structural collapse. But Health Secretary Rafael Rodríguez-Mercado has not shared a plan to address this risk nor has contacted his specialized trauma team since the earthquakes began, dangerously exposing the public. So far, the director of the only trauma center on the island, the Medical Center’s Trauma Hospital, and president of the Puerto Rico Trauma Committee before the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Pablo Rodríguez-Ortiz, has not been contacted by Rodríguez-Mercado neither before nor during the emergency that has already claimed two lives, has downed dozens of structures, resulting in more than 2,000 evacuees. Rodríguez-Mercado has not shared the current written plan —the Public Health and Medical Services Emergency Management Operational Plan — with his Trauma director, nor has he addressed the hospital’s structural deficiencies, according to internal sources and documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). The 1,048-page plan only mentions the Trauma Hospital once and makes brief mentions about the Medical Center’s role in an emergency such as an earthquake.

Organizaciones sin fines de lucro corrigen deficiencias de Tu Hogar Renace

Las reparaciones realizadas por los contratistas del programa Tu Hogar Renace, implantado por el Departamento de la Vivienda (DV), fueron tan deficientes que varias organizaciones sin fines de lucro en muchos casos han tenido que rehacer los trabajos, invirtiendo en estas obras el dinero que debió ir a ayudar a más familias. Al menos una decena de organizaciones denunciaron al Centro de Periodismo Investigativo (CPI) cómo tuvieron que invertir más dinero en reparar, principalmente, los sellados de techos, los cuales tuvieron en muchos casos que remover para hacerlos de nuevo. En el sector Miraflores, en Orocovis, hubo hogares en los que los contratistas de Tu Hogar Renace “no pusieron anclajes” o donde usaron “madera podrida que tuvo que cambiarse”, aseguró la directora ejecutiva de la organización sin fines de lucro Proyecto Matria, Amarilis Pagán. Los residentes de estas viviendas afectadas no recuerdan el nombre de los contratistas. Jiménez.

Nonprofit organizations prompt to correct deficiencies in Puerto Rico’s recovery housing program

Repairs done by contractors of the Tu Hogar Renace program, implemented by the Puerto Rican Department of Housing after Hurricane María for emergency repairs jobs were so deficient that several nonprofit organizations in many cases had to redo the work, investing in that the money that should have gone to help other necessities, and more families. At least a dozen organizations voiced their concerns to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI in Spanish) about how they had to invest more money in repairing, mainly, roof sealing work, which in many cases had to be removed and redone. In the Miraflores sector in Orocovis, there were homes in which Tu Hogar Renace contractors “did not install roof anchors” or where they used “rotten wood that had to be changed,” said the Executive Director of nonprofit organization Matria Project, Amárilis Pagán-Jiménez. The residents of those homes could not remember the name of those contractors. “Last year, part of what we had to do was follow-up on some of the repairs of Tu Hogar Renace and do them right,” Pagán-Jiménez said about the organization’s initiative that has succeeded in repairing 20 homes.