By: Claralys Hernández Santiago
On Thursday, October 9, 2014 at the Carlos Chardón building of the University of Puerto Rico- Mayagüez, a press conference was held in order to discuss the issue of the health crisis in Puerto Rico.
The conference, which began around 10:40 a.m., featured a panel of experts from different areas of health care: Rafael Moura, Catalina Moura, Marta Martínez and Librada Borrero.
Panelists first addressed the possible causes of the current health crisis, which they collectively attributed to the shortcomings of the Department of Health, the privatization of hospitals and the partisan-political relationship surrounding the positions of the Secretary of Health.
Panelists also discussed the importance of prevention campaigns by the department, misuse and management of the public healthcare plan known as la Reforma and the possible remedies to the crisis.
One of the dilemmas that the Department of Health of Puerto Rico faces every time government administrations change is that their management positions also change. “Changes of directors and lack of stability of the system forced many of us to leave the country,” Marta Martínez a nurse with nearly 30 years of experience.
“The health problem is rooted in the past,” added Rafael Moura. The health system of the island has changed over the past decades. The system has been in decline since the privatization of many hospitals, before the so-called Centers of Diagnosis and Treatment (CDT by its acronym in Spanish), which were community health centers and that offered a complete service.
“The best system was the one we had before, they only had to improve it, not dismantle it,” Moura added. He also mentioned that there was a time when the system of Puerto Rico was internationally recognized and emulated.
“The health patrimony we had built, which belonged to the people, was sold to traders, to large corporations whose standards were detrimental to the patient because what is sought is gain,” said Rafael Moura, referring to the corruption that has enveloped the government and its institutions.
Even so Puerto Rico assigns one of the largest budgets in the world for public health services, but this cannot cope to meet the demand of medical studies referred per patient.
“In Puerto Rico there are many hypochondriac people,” said Martínez, who also stated that the budget cannot keep up due to abuse of the benefits of the public health plan. In addition, physicians who provide services to people with this plan are rarely paid by the Health Department.
In an interview former health secretary Iván González Cancel gave on July 9, 2014 to Tu Mañana (Your Morning) program of the TV channel Univision, he ensured that Puerto Rico “is the country of the earth that spends more on health.”
Almost 20 percent of the island’s national income is aimed at these purposes compared to 13 percent of the United States. However, González also noted the problem of mismanagement of funds, which has resulted in a millionaire deficit and that has required cutting services. He also alluded to the inaction of the agency to present new ways to combat the crisis.
The deficit affects both patients, medical staff, who are choosing to leave the island due non-payments and limited opportunities.
“Negligence and poor Health Department action could result in the collapse of these programs which would require more than 197 medical graduates to leave the island to complete their specialties in the United States,” the spokesman of the Committee for Justice in Medical Education, Fernando Ramírez, said last September in several television media.