White House statements on Puerto Rico clash with ground reports

 In World

Story highlights

  • Assessments differ on hospitals and whether they are ‘fully operational’
  • The White House says aid and cash are ‘on site,’ but they are slow to reach residents

“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded. “This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”

Since Hurricane Maria slammed into the US territory as a Category 4 hurricane earlier this month, much of the island has been devastated — leaving millions of Americans without electricity and water, and limited access to gas and other vital supplies.

Duke’s comments weren’t the first time the White House’s statements about the recovery effort contradicted ground reports. This week, federal officials and locals clashed on such issues as medical care facilities, aid shipments and the availability of cash.

Critics say the White House has been slow to respond and is portraying the situation in Puerto Rico as better than it really is. Here’s a snapshot of what the White House is saying compared to what people there are seeing and experiencing.

Hospitals and nursing homes

White House: In Puerto Rico, 44 of 69 hospitals were “fully operational” as of Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

By Thursday night, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said that 51 hospitals had met the standard of being able to “see, treat and admit” patients.

However, he clarified that the three-pronged standard for hospitals included many using emergency diesel fuel, which he admitted was “not necessarily an ideal condition.”

Ground Reports: Because power and communication lines still remain out for much of the island, hospitals rely on diesel fuel — already in short supply — and have trouble contacting and coordinating patient care.

CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta saw those hospitals’ struggles firsthand. At a shelter an hour outside of San Juan, a woman named Josefina Alvarez, who suffers from diabetes, was in a dire situation. She had an infection and no insulin, water or food.

No ambulance could take her to a hospital, so Gupta and his team volunteered to drive her to a nearby clinic.

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“There are probably thousands of patients who are in similar shelters with no power, no water, no medications, no way out. There are probably thousands more who are still in their homes and haven’t even been able to get to a shelter,” he said. “She’s just one example of what’s happening here.”

Speaking on CNN’s The Situation Room on Thursday, Gupta said that many hospitals listed as operational had no satellite phones, no access to medications, and were unable to admit patients.

“We’re seeing diesel fuel being promised for a few hours at a time as opposed to anything that’s going to be more sustainable for them. And as you might imagine, it’s very hard to run a hospital that way,” he said. “It’s hard to take care of patients if you say, ‘Look, we have six hours of fuel left. We’re not sure if we’ll get more fuel after that.'”

Because available diesel fuel was prioritized for hospitals, nursing homes had major issues as well, Mayor Cruz said.

People waiting in line to buy gas are seen in Rio Hondo, Bayamon, Puerto Rico, on September 22, 2017.

“Most of our nursing homes have people that have an inability to move, so they’re stuck in the 14th floor, they have no water, they have no food, they — most of them are insulin-dependent,” she said.

Insulin-dependent patients are “going crazy for ice” to keep their medical supplies cold, Cruz said, while other patients haven’t had their scheduled dialysis or chemotherapy in days.

Delivering food and water

White House: President Donald Trump has tweeted several times over the past few days that food and water are “on way,” “on site” or “delivered” to Puerto Rico.
The Federal Aviation Administration supported the restoration of services to all eight commercial airports in Puerto Rico, FEMA said on Friday. In addition, five of six FEMA-priority seaports are open or open with restrictions, the Department of Defense said Thursday.

Ground Reports: Initially, FEMA was limited in its ability to deliver aid because of closed or damaged ports.

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