Hospital CEO sees parallels between struggles in Puerto Rico, Haiti

By Anjalee Khemlani
Teaneck | Sep 29, 2017 at 11:42 am

Holy Name Medical Center CEO Michael Maron sees the reports of Puerto Ricans struggling to get relief aid and supplies in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria with a different perspective than most.

Maron oversaw efforts to help Haiti following its devastating earthquake in 2010, as his hospital took ownership of the funding arm for Hôpital Sacré Coeur in Milot.

Money and supplies, he said, are just part of the worries for hospitals, he said.

“One thing that struck me as I watched the news is, tragedy occurs, and peoples’ inability to understand the basic level of what life is like when you don’t have electricity, or don’t have roadways that are passable or don’t have fresh water to drink; or people abandon what would otherwise be normal responsibilities in the community to take care of themselves and their families,” he said.

After news broke Wednesday about shipping containers full of aid being stuck at the docks in Puerto Rico with no way to distribute them, Maron said he was not surprised.

“I’ve seen this in Haiti,” he said. “They send down all these (shipping) containers of humanitarian aid, and two things happen. They can’t find drivers to actually drive the rigs to get the containers to where they need to go, and the roads are still impassable.”

Maron said a big problem is that the workers are home caring for their families. It’s a mindset that is prevalent in the islands, though there is a close sense of community.

“There is a level of community that we can help each other to a degree, but when it gets tough, self-preservation takes control,” Maron said.

Cultivating a different culture of work on the island is key for a hospital’s survival, Maron said.

“We’ve been instilling in them if you don’t keep the hospital going, it’s going to take that much longer to recover, since it’s not just a hospital — it’s the sole economic engine in the community,” he said. “We are not saying abandon your family; bring your family with you, but we need you here to keep the hospital going.”

Maron said the struggles facing Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are different from Haiti.

“Puerto Rico is very different from Haiti — even though as a territory, it was bankrupt — it was more developed an island than Haiti will ever be,” he said.

Of course, Maron said, problems remain.

From a disaster-planning perspective from the United States’ side, there appears to be an assumption that whatever aid is sent is going to make its way to the residents.

“What it does is, it taunts the people that are there, because they’re like, (aid is) here, but we can’t get it,” Maron said. “From that swells anger. That’s exactly what we saw after the earthquake in Haiti.”

People have good intentions, but the logistics are often missed, he said.

“People think of it terms of logistics of what we have here on any given day,” Maron said. “We have roadways, we have trucks, we have labor, we have electricity, we have running water. How do you improvise when those things don’t exist?”

Maron said he had been visiting and supporting, through Holy Name, Sacré Coeur before the earthquake.

It was destroyed during the 2010 earthquake, which led to Holy Name owning the funding arm for the hospital. Since its last brush with a natural disaster, Maron said, the hospital was rebuilt to withstand another potential earthquake in terms of design and foundation.

Puerto Rico, which only has a dozen hospitals operating, out of more than 60, faces a similar task.

But there is one stark difference between Puerto Rico’s struggles and Haiti’s.

“They all still have an established G8 country supporting them,” Maron said. “The U.S. has got a responsibility to the territory of Puerto Rico and to the U.S. Virgin Islands to infuse resources to make that happen. St. Martin has France, they still have a viable territory. The British Virgin Islands — the U.K. will step up. Haiti didn’t have anyone, because they are independent.”

Despite that, the U.S. responded to Haiti’s call for help as a foreign nation far more swiftly than it has to Puerto Rico, according to the Washington Post.

And while the hurricanes didn’t obliterate the hospital in Haiti this time, there was a tropical storm — between Irma and Maria passing — that created flash floods, which caused some minor water damage.

Oxygen pumps are out, as well as electrical components, which will need to be shipped from the U.S. since they are not available in Haiti.

That might cost somewhere in the ballpark of $10,000 to fix in total, Maron said.

But Maron knows that is a minor issue compared to the neighboring devastation.

Anjalee Khemlani | akhemlani@roi-nj.com | AnjKhem