Fearing the worst, doctors ordered the evacuation of Puerto Rico’s only supra-tertiary neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as the might of Hurricane María approached the island.
The fears were warranted. The NICU, located on the top floor of the island’s premier public children’s hospital, was affected by the partial collapse of the gypsum board on the ceiling. After the hurricane, the NICU area was significantly reduced. Hospital staff had to transfer half of the unit’s 50 neonatal incubators to the third floor and accommodate them in regular pediatric rooms. Nevertheless, “the operation has continued since then,” said Beatriz García, Executive Director of the University Pediatric Hospital Foundation (Fundación Hospital Pediátrico). “It is a bit more uncomfortable for the medical and nursing staff and the babies are not in an optimal environment”, added García.
The NICU of the University Pediatric Hospital is the largest on the island and the most specialized. García explained that when other hospitals have critical neonatal cases, they are transferred to the hospital. That includes neonatal cases that have been affected by the Zika virus.
Although the hospital’s critical services have continued, it has been at the expense of reducing the number of beds available for other pediatric cases that were accommodated on the third floor, according to García. The public hospital has 160 beds plus the NICU. It is the only hospital in Puerto Rico with a specialized dialysis unit for children, a bone marrow transplant unit and all subspecialties 24 hours. García explained that the dedicated faculty is part of the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Science Campus and as a public hospital it also takes cases in which the family cannot pay for the services.
“The hospital gets the most complex cases. Demand is high,” said García of the hospital services but the need for infrastructure improvements is also critical. That is why the Foundation was created in 2014 to raise funds for infrastructure improvements for the public hospital and medical equipment as the Government of Puerto Rico was facing a deepening fiscal crisis.
As the hurricane damaged the roof, part of the ceiling and half of the elevators, the Foundation sought funds to repair the damage. “We turned to United for Puerto Rico among other sources of funding,” said García. The staff of United for Puerto Rico recommended the donation which was approved in a grant of $262,880 by its board.
With the funds, the Foundation is paying for the roof and ceiling repairs. Repairs are currently underway. Yet, it still needs to find funds to fix the elevators as part of the hurricane recovery process.
However, the Foundation’s focus goes beyond hurricane recovery. García explained that the Foundation is also focused on obtaining state of the art equipment for the institution, a critical element in attracting and retaining top medical talent.
The University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Science Campus graduates talented young doctors who often train for specialties and subspecialties at top teaching medical facilities in the mainland U.S.A. “They are used to working with the latest in technology,” said García. So, it is key for the hospital to offer working conditions and medical equipment that continue to develop the skills of doctors to serve the cases with greatest needs in Puerto Rico. The search for funds continues. For more information, visit