Providing Medical Support for Hurricane Recovery in Puerto Rico

When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico, locals quickly lost water, food, power, and medical resources. Thankfully, many major U.S. contractors were called upon to start work on rebuilding infrastructure and power systems soon after the hurricane winds subsided and the rains stopped. Remote Medical International currently supports two of these contractors by providing medical staffing and medical supplies to their workforces on the ground in Puerto Rico.

Remote Medical International has deployed four medical service providers who support a clinic aboard a vessel housing contractor staff working on rebuilding the power systems.

From 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., EMT Valeria Canella and PA Joanna Simkus treat work-related injuries and sickness as primary health care providers on a barge just off the port of Puerto Rico.

“It is instant gratification because you get close to your patients. You become more like a really big messy family,” said Canella.

Feeling intimidated by the barge upon first arrival, Canella and Simkus made the best out of tight quarters. After interacting with the local community and seeing the huge walls with writing, “need food and water,” Simkus knew they were living in relative luxury.

Remote Medical International also supported a large DoD prime contractor by providing two paramedics with 24/7 Topside Assistance and routine medical care 12 hours per day, seven days a week. These services help a major industrial project that builds power lines, brings in supplies to rebuild infrastructure, and clears ships destroyed by the storm.

According to Justin Steidinger, a remote paramedic for Remote Medical International stationed at one of the DoD land-based project sites, most of the town’s traffic lights lack power, and many people do not have power in their houses, let alone power to keep food refrigerated.

“You have to get your head around that this mission profile is to support these people here so they can get power again,” said Steidinger.

Since January 2018, Steidinger treats patients, coordinates with Remote Medical International’s 24/7 Topside Assistance, and manages inventory to keep the clinic stocked. Even when there aren’t any patients to treat, Steidinger runs water out to the line men, takes out the trash, and runs people around the site with the medical UTV.

Along with Steidinger, Canella and Simkus see anywhere from five to 25 patients a day. Linemen can come in with work related injuries, lacerations, flu, or cold symptoms from adjusting to the Puerto Rico environment.

Not only do they provide medical care, but Canella and Simkus also educate the linemen on wellness, including limiting the dosage of over-the-counter antibiotics, and encouraging the use of hand sanitizer. Simkus even rescued a dog that was near the barge.  

“We want to also be a moral boost, and do anything we can to help them,” said Simkus.  

Locals are working hard, often for more than fifteen hours a day, to rebuild their island, and are thankful of the help they receive from our clients and Remote Medical International staff. They frequently invite the Remote Medical International staff for dinner, even bringing Christmas dinner to Canella and Simkus one night.

“They share whatever they have, they are some of the most caring people I’ve met,” said Canella.

Simkus and Canella both agree they’ve grown as leaders from this experience and enjoy helping the people of this island.

“I’m finally a part of a bigger picture, I feel so blessed to be here,” said Canella.

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