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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘We need to be more prepared’

The primary purpose of the symposium was to build stronger alliances between community health centers and community leaders, “so when situations happen where we have to intervene with the community’s health, community leaders are already more prepared for these events,” HealthProMed Executive Director Ivonne Rivera Hernández said. (Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

HealthProMed brings communities & health providers together to prepare for high hurricane season

By Richard Gutiérrez

Community health center HealthProMed late last week held its first symposium with community leaders, “State of Emergency: Creating Strategic Connections.” Some 50 community leaders from different regions -- Península de Cantera, Villa Palmeras, Guaynabo, Cataño, Carolina and the offshore island municipalities Vieques and Culebra -- were in attendance.

“This event comes from a study executed by Dr. Saria Hassan and her assistant, Dr. Rosa Rosario from the public health grad school at the University of Puerto Rico, where they were trying to figure out which factors were important to understand within a community during a disaster when considering residents with chronic conditions and how to keep these particular residents as healthy as possible,” HealthProMed Executive Director Ivonne Rivera Hernández said.

As a community health center under the federal Public Health Law, HealthProMed primarily focuses on keeping the health of various communities under control, providing primary medical treatments and preventive health treatments.

“The event’s main purpose is to have the community leaders become our allies, so when situations happen where we have to intervene with the community’s health, community leaders are already more prepared for these events, Rivera Hernández said.

The event also aimed to provide tools and information to the community leaders, creating a strategic connection between the community health center and the leaders, thereby making it easier for community health centers to address any specific situation. Keeping in mind that when community leaders are prepared, things become much more streamlined in general.

“Once the community leaders are prepared, this helps people with chronic conditions to be prepared earlier for any catastrophic event; community leaders can inform and prepare people with chronic conditions,” Rivera Hernández told the STAR. “Without the community leaders, it’s difficult for health centers such as ourselves to reach the community. If we all work together, it is much more efficient for us and for the community.”

Even though such bridge-building events are important whenever they happen, considering that nature’s fury could strike at any time, hurricane season is in full swing in Puerto Rico, and the most aggressive month, September, is less than seven weeks away.

“This is the first year we have had this event, and we are holding it right at the beginning of hurricane season, because we have already been through tough experiences regarding hurricanes,” Rivera Hernández said. “We need to strengthen our relationship with community leaders so that during this hurricane season we can be a lot more agile, effective and fast regarding the community’s health.”

The latest hurricane report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) forecast that between 12 and 17 storms could form, of which five to nine could become hurricanes. NOAA considers this forecast to be a “near-normal” hurricane season.

The symposium included the participation of many notable lecturers and officials, including island emergency management chief Nino Correa Filomeno, as well as public health experts. Notably, in her presentation, Hassan noted many ways to keep the community’s health in good shape. One very important detail she mentioned in her presentation had to do with managing the medication supply of a person with chronic health issues. The doctor said maintaining a stock of medication was very important because it isn’t certain that the drug store will be open after certain hours the night before a hurricane or even after a hurricane has passed. “We are living in a time in Puerto Rico where many people are leaving the island and leaving their aging parents behind,” Rivera Hernández said. “This creates a situation where many communities need help and don’t have it directly or as quickly because their children are not on the island. It means we need to be more prepared for the possible upcoming atmospheric events.”

Rivera Hernández also expressed deep gratitude for the presence of mayors from Vieques, Culebra, San Juan, Carolina and Guaynabo at the event.

One of the community leaders, Jesús M. Larracuente Nieves, who is the president of a community board known as Las Monjas Renacidas, shared with the STAR his experience working with HealthProMed.

“I’ve had many private meetings with HealthProMed in the past, and I must say that the service they have provided our community has been very good; during the pandemic, especially, they were very helpful,” he said. “Our community is a community filled with elderly people; we have two elderly sisters in our community that are over the age of 65 and live by themselves. The help they have provided our community has been exceptional.”

“This is the first time they have gathered all of us together at an event like this, and I personally believe this should happen more often throughout the year,” Larracuente Nieves added. “Interaction is very important, and our people need to be united now more than ever, communities and public health centers alike. On top of that, this creates the opportunity for us to learn and become much more informed on the subject of health. I didn’t know much about health in general, and thanks to this [symposium], there is a lot I’ve been able to learn.”

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