Department of Health Bought Overpriced Medical Equipment from Contact Referred by National Guard

The Department of Health was not the only government agency that purchased COVID-19 screening tests, masks, and other supplies for the pandemic. The Puerto Rico National Guard also made its purchases, and at least one of its transactions reflects what has been a pattern within the government during the emergency: failure to comply with the agreed terms; intermediaries with no experience in medical products; and companies that disappear without a trace. Between April and June 30, the National Guard disbursed $4.3 million for emergency-related procurements. The information about the National Guard’s suppliers was shared with the Department of Health, José Reyes, Adjutant General of the National Guard, told the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). Reyes said that at a meeting in the house of state La Fortaleza, Mabel Cabeza — the Department of Health’s former chief of staff and liaison between the medical Task Force designated for the pandemic and the executive branch — asked who was providing procurement quotes to the National Guard for emergency-related equipment.

Puerto Rico’s Chronically Ill Health System Blocks Effective COVID-19 Response

While Joshua James Sánchez Antillón was hospitalized, seriously ill due to COVID-19, his father, Luis Ángel “Wichy” Sánchez Soler, got a bill for $65,000. It did not even itemize the services the hospital was providing. The invoice issued by HIMA San Pablo Caguas hospital stated that, if signed, he would have 15 days to pay the amount. Wichy Sánchez Soler, who at that time was mourning his father’s death, also due to COVID-19, decided not to sign because he didn’t know what they were charging him for, or how he was going to be able to pay. At that point, the hospital did not offer advice or payment options.

A year later, legal authorities have yet to close investigation into the Telegram chat ‘brothers’

A year after the conversations between former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his closest collaborators contained in 889 pages of a Telegram chat were revealed, the Special Independent Prosecutor Panel (PFEI, in Spanish) has been unable to gain access to the full chat, nor has it sought that any of the involved becomes a witness to the investigation, at least two sources consulted by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) confirmed. The Special Independent Prosecutors in charge of the investigation have until August 25 to complete the investigation they have going on into the six “brothers” referred to by the Office of the Panel of the Special Independent Prosecutor (OPFEI, in Spanish) in the resolution issued on February 13. The CPI learned that so far, prosecutors have not requested to add other possible parties, nor have they asked for more time to complete the investigation. The Government shutdown due to the pandemic by COVID-19 gave the investigation a second wind, a year after the scandal that caused Rosselló Nevares’ exit from La Fortaleza. The result of the investigation into the possible crimes that could have been committed is still unknown.

Selling Dreams to Puerto Rico’s Young Ballplayers

“You can observe a lot by just watching.”
Yogi Berra

A rifle is not a baseball bat, but with luck, there are baseball bats that, combined with books, avoid that rifle. For Edwin Calderón Santana, the bat turned into a rifle, and today he spends the days of the pandemic in a room at Fort Lewis, a military base in Washington state. The soldier pauses his routine and reminisces. “I wanted to be a baseball player, that was my dream since I was little,” says the 24-year-old guy. During the video call he goes over the incident he believes he has overcome.

Reverse mortgages in Puerto Rico cause financial calamity for many seniors

SAN JUAN – Reverse mortgages are failing at nearly double the U.S. national average in Puerto Rico, a problem magnified on the island by sliding property values, lenders’ responses after natural disasters and unique challenges ranging from spotty mail service to the lack of some loan materials in Spanish. Across the United States, the loans – which allow seniors to draw down equity in their homes – are falling into default at unprecedented rates a decade after the onset of the Great Recession, when brokers wrote the most loans in the program’s history. An analysis by USA TODAY and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo in Puerto Rico found waves of reverse mortgages headed to foreclosure for reasons other than death, the natural way the loans are supposed to end. Almost one in four reverse mortgage loans failed from 2014 to 2018 over technical snags, according to the Government Accountability Office. Totals from 2019 compiled by the island’s office for financial institutions suggests an even greater share: 80% of the last year’s reverse mortgage foreclosures in 2019 were the result of tax defaults, insurance issues or occupancy problems.

Across the U.S., about one in seven loans met the same fate during those years, the USA TODAY analysis found. The work was done in partnership with Grand Valley State University in Michigan with support from the McGraw Center for Business Journalism and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Puerto Ricans in the US live in counties with the highest possibility of COVID-19 infection and death

This investigation is possible in part with the support of the Pulitzer Center and the Facebook Journalism Project. Miriam Moreno Santiago was picking up her mother’s luggage in Orlando, Florida, when she was told she wouldn’t be able to see her. They would be taking her directly from the airplane to the hospital because she was having trouble breathing. María Isabel Santiago Colón, her 68-year-old mother, lived in Brooklyn, New York, but health complications and her age drove her to move South with her daughter. However, her journey changed.

More Deaths in Puerto Rico than Announced During the Pandemic

Deaths in Puerto Rico have increased over the past three months despite the few COVID-19 losses reported on the island and the drop in fatalities from accidents and crimes due to quarantine confinement, as compared to 2019, the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) found. This, contrary to what was publicly said by Health Secretary Lorenzo González Feliciano and by the director of the Demographic Registry, Wanda Llovet the first week of May when the Department of Health sent the media the data on the deaths of March and April, without making the distinction that they were still significantly incomplete. On May 5, Secretary González Feliciano said in the Jugando Pelota Dura television program that deaths for the month of April totaled 1,750, “when typically in Puerto Rico we  have 2,500 deaths per month.” “How do you explain that? Possibly with the reduction in crime, the decrease in other conditions, but what has been done in Puerto Rico has resulted in a significant impact on the absolute number of deaths,” he continued in reference to the Government of Puerto Rico’s COVID-19 contention measures.

Unsuitable 23% of Shelters Listed by the Government of Puerto Rico for the Hurricane Season

Twenty three percent of the buildings on the list of shelters that the Department of Housing released for the 2020 hurricane season are schools with structural damage due to the earthquakes occurred in the southern part of Puerto Rico about six months ago. Since the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) warned a week ago that, in the southern region alone, that list includes 14 schools with damages classified as “unsuitable or partially unsuitable,” the agency have not revised the document, despite the fact that the hurricane season is underway. Of the 319 shelters that the Government identified a week ago, 73 are schools damaged from the earthquakes that require repair or shutting down areas, or the damage is so severe that they must close permanently, according to engineers hired by the Department of Education (DE, in Spanish) that inspected them. In addition to the 14 schools in the south, another 59 school shelters were classified “unsuitable” (red) or “partially suitable” (yellow) are located in 64 municipalities in Puerto Rico. Hormigueros, Aguada, Rincón and Manatí would have to cast off shelters whose schools were classified red.