• The San Juan Daily Star

Hospital for Vieques will require amending original FEMA funding request

Early last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency allocated close to $40 million to rebuild the Susana Centeno Vieques Diagnostic and Treatment Center, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria almost four years ago.

By Angélica Serrano Román/Center for Investigative Journalism

A hospital is not the same as a medical clinic or a diagnosis and treatment center, according to the building codes in force in Puerto Rico.

Although the Municipality of Vieques and the Puerto Rico government announced their intention to build a hospital in that island municipality, the federal funds allocated so far are to rebuild the diagnosis and treatment center that existed before the passage of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

In order for a hospital to be built in Vieques, the Puerto Rico government would still have to submit amendments to the scope of work originally submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and those amendments would have to be approved.

“Viequenses deserve a quality hospital where they can go 24 hours a day to receive medical services,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said just over two weeks ago at a press conference at which the conceptual design of the “new hospital” was presented. La Fortaleza acknowledged to the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ), however, that the design has not been completed.

Early last year, FEMA allocated $39,569,694 to rebuild the Susana Centeno Vieques Diagnostic and Treatment Center (CDT by its Spanish initials), which was destroyed nearly four years ago by Hurricane Maria. That amount represents 90% of the project, whose net cost amounts to $43,966,327.

“FEMA determined that the replacement facility, including the type of occupancy of the building, is a medical clinic,” the federal agency confirmed to the CIJ. “The scope of work is based on the replacement of a medical clinic facility, not a hospital.”

A hospital is a structure that offers medical care 24 hours a day for more than five people who cannot “fend for themselves,” according to the 2018 International Building Code, which is used by the Puerto Rico government. Meanwhile, a clinic offers part-day services to outpatients who can fend for themselves after receiving medical care.

The Vieques CDT was licensed for two beds, according to the 2017 Health Department certification, reads a report from the Office of the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

FEMA compared the Vieques CDT’s 2017 license to the International Building Code and approved a replacement for a medical clinic, because, among other things, a hospital requires more than five beds.

The Puerto Rico government did not appeal the FEMA determination issued on July 9, 2019, although in practice the CDT had more than 10 beds, Vieques Mayor José Corcino Acevedo told the CIJ.

As of the end of last week, FEMA had not received the request to amend the scope of work of the $39 million project to build a hospital. The federal agency told the CIJ that it is awaiting a report on how the municipality, which has a population of 9,000 and receives thousands of tourists each year, “plans to rebuild the CDT facilities.”

La Fortaleza Deputy Chief of Staff Roberto Méndez Martínez told the CIJ that the amendment request will be made when the design of the draft is completed. That process could take weeks, he said.

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