The San Juan Daily Star
Physicians: Power blackouts are a matter of life or death at hospitals & for patients at home
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
Physicians and Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico President Dr. Carlos Díaz Vélez said Thursday that the hours-long blackouts that Puerto Rico has been experiencing not only affect the general public, but also are a matter of life or death for thousands of people who depend on electricity to power medical equipment.
“All health equipment depends on the electrical system,,” Díaz Vélez said. “The highways can wait, but a life connected to the electrical system cannot wait.”
Accompanied by gerontologist Tamara Pérez and Celia Galán from the Association for the Support of Parents of Children with Disabilities (APNI by its Spanish acronym), Díaz Vélez demanded that politicians take urgent measures to supervise LUMA Energy, the private operator of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s transmission and distribution system.
“That an elderly person remains anchored on an upper floor because they cannot go downstairs because the elevator stopped due to a blackout is inconceivable,” Díaz Vélez said. “A patient connected to an oxygen machine, ventilator, or dialysis machine, which depends on electricity, and doesn’t have service, puts their health and life at risk.”
There are at least 30,000 bedridden patients in Puerto Rico, and many need electricity to survive. One thousand, three hundred people live in senior centers, and the island has 25 dialysis units and 69 hospitals.
“We are treating patients with chronic conditions whose life depends on equipment, therapies, and medications that need electricity,” Díaz Vélez said.
“I don’t care if it’s LUMA, Lama, or Lima … it doesn’t matter. The problem is that another company comes and does the same thing,” the cardiologist said. “We must make it clear to the government that the Physicians Association and the patients will not remain silent because the situation is an emergency; we lose lives with this tragedy.”
Weeks ago, a significant blackout kept University Hospital at the Río Piedras Medical Center without electricity for 16 hours. Days later, Auxilio Mutuo Hospital also faced a power outage, and that’s not counting homes with patients who depend on equipment to stay alive, Díaz Vélez said.
“People die because treatments are lost, costly medicines get spoiled,” he said. “This has to end, and patients’ lives are at stake.”
The medical specialist noted that if a person who depends on electricity doesn’t have service, they will end up in overcrowded hospitals dealing with the pandemic. In addition, the patient could get sick in hospital environments, worsening their outcome.
“It is clear that LUMA has failed spectacularly, as have the calls to prevent this from happening in the first place,” Díaz Vélez said. “Those who should have supervised the contract and its compliance should understand that they represent the public interest and not the profit and well being of a company.”
“Electricity and health are very closely tied,” he said. “What else is needed to hear the clamor of the people and start defending it, instead of being a lawyer for a company that does not even respect the government and to which they handed over a monopoly for 15 years?”
Pérez, the gerontologist, stressed that although many homes have power plants, they are not there to replace the electrical system.
“We have patients who must be on a ventilator 24 hours a day or who have ulcers and need air conditioning,” she said. “My question is, will we wait for generators to replace electrical systems? Continue to lose lives? I represent care homes, but as a gerontologist, I also represent people alone at home, those older adults who find it hard to turn on an electrical plant. This is unsustainable; we cannot continue like this.”
Galán added that part of the services APNI offers is to support mothers of bedridden children, “in the vast majority alone, without resources or with limited resources, with onerous expenses to attend to the needs of their children, and [the government has] no idea of the agony these mothers go through every time their electricity goes out.”
“I also call on the Legislature to give these families subsidies to pay for the fuel for the power plants,” she said. “It is an additional expense that these families have. It is pressing for all of us when we lack electricity, but for these families it is agony.”