Economy and politics keep sinking healthcare in PR

By: Emmanuel Robles Rivera

Visiting a hospital or seeking medical care in Puerto Rico could be risky. An act of faith, even, considering the mistakes and malpractice that occurs frequently in hospitals around the country.

“The entire Health Department needs to do some serious adjustments. It is chaos. It doesn’t work,” said nurse Marta Martínez at a press conference held at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez last Thursday, October 9.

Panelist Marta Martínez explains some issues of the healthcare system due to politics and economics.

Panelist Marta Martínez explains some issues of the healthcare system due to politics and economics.

The situation doesn´t seem to be improving with the advancement of medicine. Retired nurse Librada Borrero, also speaking at the press conference, compared the health care given today to the one available a decade ago. Borrero is convinced that health is now only a numbers game: how much will the industry get without giving the patient the medical care needed. The patients´ well being is not a priority anymore, she said, ¨the patients are the ones who are affected.”

This was the consensus at the press conference organized by the English 3268 class. Health professionals were invited to talk about malpractice and the state of the Island´s health system.  They agreed that the intromission of private interests and the government´s inconsistency to deal with the issue are the main obstacles to have good health care.

Catalina and Rafael Moura, health professionals and also witnesses in malpractice cases, noted that, although Puerto Rico has the knowledge and the resources to offer good health services, the government is a stumbling block. “The government should have a goal to provide good healthcare service without having to attach anyone to a political party,” concluded Ms. Moura.

For as long as politics and politicians drive the decision-making process, Moura said, the situation will not improve. In her opinion, if every four years the political players change, the instability of the system will increase even more. ¨The patient is the one that will suffer the consequences,¨ Martínez added.

According to information published by the Department of Health, this year alone, nine malpractice civil cases have been awarded. The resolutions in these cases amount to $529,000. That money is not all coming from the doctors´ pocket. Doctors have insurance to cover these claims, and if they work in the public system, they are protected from these lawsuits. The Department´s website lists all the civil cases regarding malpractice. The long list includes hundreds of doctors who were found responsible for negligence and, in some cases, death.

During the press conference, student Bryan Acosta inquired nurse Borrero about her experience working in the field. Her answer struck a chord with the audience. In the 1990´s, the health system in Puerto Rico went through major surgery. The hospitals were privatized and, with the arrival of health care reform, everybody had access to every doctor and medical procedure.

Interviewers Natali Rivera and Bryan Acosta listening to the panelists.

Interviewers Natali Rivera and Bryan Acosta listening to the panelists.

For Borrero, this system took a wrong turn when the Centers for Diagnostics and Treatment (CDT, in Spanish) were placed in private hands. ¨Everything changed when our own hospitals were sold to higher economical interests,¨ she said.

The rest of the panel agreed. Ours, they said, was a health system worth copying. Martínez added that the system might not have been perfect, but got the job done and people found the help they needed.

Board of panelists composed by (from lest to right) Catalina Borrero, Rafael Moura, Marta Martínez and Librada Librada Borrero.

Board of panelists composed by (from lest to right) Catalina Borrero, Rafael Moura, Marta Martínez and Librada Librada Borrero.

As the press conference concluded one question remained: How to fix a system that has been broken for so long? ¨There´s still hope,¨ Mr. Moura said, remembering the fact that there are good medical schools in the Island and, more importantly, people who are willing to sacrifice for the well being of others.

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