Ground broken on new Vieques health facility that residents say is not the promised hospital
By The Star Staff
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the new health facilities in the offshore island municipality of Vieques on Wednesday.
Vieques residents will soon begin to witness the reconstruction of the Susana Centeno Diagnostic and Treatment Center (CDT by its Spanish initials), for which the federal agency allocated nearly $43.5 million to address damage caused by Hurricane Maria. It is the most significant amount of funds that the agency has awarded at a municipal level as part of Puerto Rico’s recovery.
FEMA also allocated nearly $4.2 million to the Puerto Rico Department of Health (PRDH) for the temporary medical facilities currently operating in Vieques until the permanent facilities are completed. The temporary center provides services from the PRDH. The funds allowed for the temporary relocation of the CDT, medical trailers for clinical exams, obstetrics-gynecology and dentistry services, an Odulair dialysis trailer and an emergency power generator.
“We understand how important this healthcare facility is to every resident of Vieques, and we have worked closely with the Government of Puerto Rico to ensure residents have the facility they need and deserve,” Criswell said. “Today, we see the results of our partnership as we take this important step in the island’s recovery. We remain committed to the people of Vieques and look forward to inaugurating the facility when it is complete.”
For pastor and community leader Urayoán Silva Rivera, the health center is the most critical resource the Vieques community needs since it creates a greater sense of safety by eliminating the need to travel to the main island in an emergency. He noted that by 4 p.m., his family reduces activities that may involve some risk or danger, “when in the park, on the bike, in the places we go to, because we know that there is no hospital at night.”
Silva Rivera also said that once the infrastructure of the health center is in place, nonprofit groups will be able to support the coordination of medical personnel transfers to the municipality and the providing of health clinics.
The new health center will employ 54 people, including 16 health professionals. The facilities will include pediatric and adult emergency rooms, and dialysis, laboratory and infusion services.
The new structure will comply with current design codes and regulations for medical facilities. It will be built to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building certification.
Six years after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has received over $31.3 billion in FEMA allocations for nearly 10,900 projects that will help move recovery forward. Of those, 21 projects are for the recovery of Vieques, totaling over $62.2 million.
Employees and residents of Vieques stated, however, their disappointment and frustration because the health facilities planned for Vieques will not be a hospital, as the government initially promised, but rather a diagnostic and treatment center.
“The Vieques community has endured significant challenges since Hurricane Maria, and promises of a full hospital were perceived as a light at the end of the tunnel. However, we learned with dismay that reality differs from expectations,” a group of employees who are also residents said anonymously, for fear of reprisals. “We understand that funding management and planning decisions can be complex, but we feel deceived and let down by Governor Pedro Pierluisi and the mayor of Vieques, for this sudden and significant alteration of the original plan. Governor Pierluisi has not answered [questions as to] where the $2 million is going to come from to operate the now CDT, why the municipality does not have it, and they were ambivalent.”