Radiologists to the Rescue
ACR members join forces to lead relief efforts for post-hurricane Puerto Rico.
In September 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. With sustained winds of 155 mph, the Category 4 storm uprooted trees, razed homes, and caused widespread, catastrophic flooding. The disaster killed more than 4,600 people, and millions were left without electricity, water, or cell phone service.1 Members of the Radiological Society of Puerto Rico in San Juan immediately sprang into action to assist in the recovery efforts.
“Any time disaster impacts a community, it’s critical that all of the healthcare team members become involved,” notes Efrén J. Flores, MD, director of radiology community health improvement at Massachusetts General Hospital. “As radiologists, we collaborate with other disciplines in the daily care of patients, and when a crisis occurs it’s necessary that we remain engaged.”
Flores joined forces with several members of the Puerto Rico chapter, including Mario J. Polo, MD, a neurointerventional radiologist from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Francisco A. Viejo-Rullan, MD, an abdominal imaging subspecialized radiologist in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, to identify specific medical needs at hard-hit institutions such as the University Pediatric Hospital in San Juan.
“Numerous hospitals had been forced to close due to the power shortage and lack of fuel for generators,” says Polo. “Diminished access to treatment — including dialysis, insulin, cancer therapies, medication, and oxygen — had left thousands of lives in peril, especially the sick and the elderly. Radiologists in Puerto Rico had to provide continuous care of patients despite the lack of resources such as a hospital PACS system or limited power to consistently operate radiology equipment.”
Polo, together with a group of six other young professionals from the Houston area, co-founded Texas United for Puerto Rico, to deliver humanitarian relief, generators, and 55,000 pounds of food. When their cargo plane arrived in hard-hit Salinas, Polo and his radiology colleagues got to work preparing and delivering meals, delivering first-aid items to communities that were crippled by the storm, and participating in health fairs across the island.
According to Viejo-Rullan, the Puerto Rico chapter members worked on the operational logistics of gathering and delivering donations and facilitated the delivery coordination of donated medical supplies, such as portable ultrasound machines to the University Pediatric Hospital, to ensure that equipment and supplies arrived promptly to those communities in dire need of services. He notes that their efforts highlight the radiologist’s central role in a time of crisis.
“As radiologists, we collaborate with other disciplines in the daily care of patients. When a crisis occurs, we must remain actively involved and work with our colleagues in the care of our patients,” says Viejo-Rullan.
Polo agrees. “In times of catastrophe, it’s imperative that we identify critical needs, organize, and execute a plan to deliver those needs to the people and places that need them most, and then communicate effectively and concisely with a diverse group of individuals with different backgrounds,” he says. “That comes naturally from careers in medicine and radiology, where we are trained to do this when interpreting imaging studies, formulating diagnoses, and discussing them with patients and medical colleagues. These interpretive, diagnostic, and communication skills that took years to develop also prove valuable in an emergency situation.”
Polo adds that the Puerto Rico chapter is committed to continuing to help the community and letting patients and medical colleagues know that their radiologists are there to do more than interpret CTs or perform IR procedures. “The message that our local chapter wanted to convey is, ‘We are more than your radiologists; we are here to assist in recovery and help rebuild.’ And I think we were successful in this endeavor,” Polo says.
According to Flores, the destruction in Puerto Rico and the resulting chapter-led initiative serve to affirm the role of radiologists in community healthcare. “Radiologists don’t have to be on the sidelines during recovery efforts,” he says. “Radiologists can lead.”
- Kishore, N, Marqués, D, Mahmud, A, Kiang, MV, Rodriguez, I, Fuller, A, Ebner, P, et al. Mortality in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. N Engl J Med. 2018. Available at bit.ly/Maria_Mortality.
By Lori A. Burkhart, JD, freelance writer, ACR Press