What Puerto Rico’s Death Toll from Hurricane Maria Really Tells Us

Nicolette Louissaint | The Hill | September 7, 2018

The recently released report from the Milken Institute is perhaps the strongest rebuke to date on the impact of Hurricane Maria during the 2017 hurricane season. The report notes nearly 3,000 people have died in Puerto Rico because of the storm. These numbers provide a more accurate depiction of the devastation and lives lost in Puerto Rico. While sad and troubling, it is important to call out that these updated numbers do not even account for the death toll in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Nicolette LouissaintIt’s also important to note that the new estimate demonstrates the very real consequences of fragile infrastructure and preparedness plans in the face of disaster. From my perspective, this report makes an irrefutable case for the need for more investments in health care and public health preparedness. With that, there are a few questions which this report calls us to consider.

How do we build systems that care for the most fragile and most vulnerable? The report reminds us that in disaster response, the cascading public health impacts are as important as the direct impacts. In the days, weeks and years after a disaster, public health needs and strains on the health-care system will continue to cause casualties, especially in high-risk populations.  For instance, challenges patients face when trying to access care in the days following a disaster are difficult. But for those at higher risk or need, including medically fragile patients such as the elderly or those suffering from a chronic disease, the challenges can be insurmountable. As emergency managers, we know the ability to access care is a matter of life and death - so we must vow to do better for those affected by disaster...