Team assesses health, human services needs in Puerto Rico

"We could hear their pain, even as they were working together.”

Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico Sept. 20, devastating the U.S. commonwealth. Photo credit: Agence France—Getty Images.

 With support from Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS), an assessment team including medical professionals and others dispatched by Mennonite Health Services (MHS) traveled to Puerto Rico Oct. 4, 2017, to explore what medical and health and human service support is needed in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Rose Gillin led the team, utilizing her skills as a medical physician in tandem with her experience of growing up in Puerto Rico. Teammate Jim Alvarez, CFO and senior vice president of Everence, also grew up on the island and is a board member of Sistema de Salud Menonita, the Mennonite hospital system in Puerto Rico.

Together with MDS, who also has an assessment team on the ground, the MHS team is interfacing with Mennonite Church leaders in Puerto Rico.

Carolyn Holderread Heggen, a trauma specialist, will travel to the island at a later time to contribute to the assessment.

“These are professionally competent and well-connected individuals,” says MHS CEO Rick Stiffney.

Gillin and Alvarez have now returned to Indiana with an assessment of health and human services needs.

“Everything looked different—devastated—especially the trees,” Gillin says. “As we talked with people, we could hear their pain, even as they were working together.”

Most hospitals are still running on generators that are now requiring repair after four weeks of continuous use. Access to water is still limited, and there is concern about the safety of the water that is available. Many homes, churches, and schools have been damaged or destroyed. Driving is dangerous because of downed traffic signals and telephone poles.

Pharmacies are not able to fill prescriptions because they cannot access insurance companies for approval, which is of special concern for the sick and elderly. Diabetic patients are not able to refrigerate their insulin, and those on dialysis are facing an overwhelming treatment challenge.

Those who are not physically ailing are still subject to damaging amounts of mental and emotional stress, causing many to lose sleep and fear for their safety. The inability to communicate and the lingering possibility of yet another hurricane have produced anxiety in great measure. Wide-spread trauma has revealed a need for specialists and counselors in this area.

Sistema de Salud Menonita has reported that more than 100 of their employees need to rebuild or replace their homes. They have donated $500,000 to support this effort with the goal of raising an additional $500,000.

In response to these findings, MHS is encouraging constituents to donate dollars and/or volunteer hours to MDS, which is working directly with Juan Carlos Colón, moderator of the local Mennonite Conference in Puerto Rico. Any healthcare professionals who are interested in volunteering should be in touch with Mennonite Healthcare Fellowship by calling Deloris Rhodes at 1-888-406-3643 or emailing

Monies can also be donated to send Heggen and other trauma specialists to the island, as well as to the Sistema de Salud Menonita fund for their employees.

Tax deductible contributions for the Sistema de Salud Menonita employee fund or to cover expenses for the assessment team and trauma specialists can be mailed to MHS at 1112 North Main St., Goshen, Indiana 46528.

In the face of disaster, fear, and the unknown, all are invited to pray for pastors, institutional and hospital leaders, teachers, the sick and elderly, and those who are in need of healing of all kinds on the island of Puerto Rico.





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