May 15, 2019

Harris, Senate and House Colleagues Urge FEMA to Take Rapid and Robust Action to Help Rebuild Key Puerto Rico Hospital

More than 18 months after Hurricane Maria, 9,000 U.S. citizens still cannot access comprehensive medical care at Vieques' single hospital

WASHINGTON, D.C. U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) in sending a letter to Acting Administrator Peter Gaynor of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting information about problems with FEMA's provision of disaster aid to the only hospital on Vieques, an island located roughly seven miles off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico and devastated the territory. Vieques was no exception and experienced extensive delays in accessing electricity, housing, and medical care in the wake of the storm. There is only one hospital building on Vieques -- and according to recent reports -- the hospital "remains a shuttered wreck of rust and mold," leaving the 9,000 U.S. citizens living on the island to rely on a "temporary facility" that "still lacks the ability to perform key medical procedures."

There are disturbing reports of delays in medical care and well-documented harrowing trips that Viequenses must take to the Puerto Rico mainland to obtain care. Puerto Rican officials allege that Vieques "secured a commitment," in writing, "from FEMA more than a year ago to rebuild the hospital." However, according to new reports, FEMA still has "not decided whether the (Vieques) hospital needs to be rebuilt."

"Vieques residents are U.S. citizens. Like all U.S. citizens, they need and deserve access to high-quality health services -- not temporary medical facilities that cannot provide care to patients in need," wrote the lawmakers. "Vieques has already faced extensive delays in disaster aid, and it is essential that FEMA take all necessary steps to help the island rebuild its medical infrastructure."

The lawmakers have requested responses to a series of questions no later than June 5, 2019, in order to better understand the steps that FEMA is taking to ensure that Vieques residents have access to a working hospital.

Joining Harris, Warren, Menendez, and Velázquez on the letter are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), along with Representatives Darren Soto (D-FL), José Serrano (D-NY), and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

A full text of the letter can be found here.