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People is seen inside a hospital in Vieques, Puerto Rico on November 27, 2017. The only hospital available for the 9000 Vieques residents was damaged by Hurricane Maria and had to be closed and is only attending patients in tents outside the damaged building provided by the US Army. / AFP PHOTO / Ricardo ARDUENGO / TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY LEILA MACOR (Photo credit should read RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images) 
People is seen inside a hospital in Vieques, Puerto Rico on November 27, 2017. The only hospital available for the 9000 Vieques residents was damaged by Hurricane Maria and had to be closed and is only attending patients in tents outside the damaged…

Puerto Rico hospitals have not been rebuilt more than three years after Hurricane Maria

A second child’s death in a year has brought attention back to the glaring neglect from the U.S. and the island’s government.

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The hospital in Vieques, Puerto Rico was destroyed after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017, and it has yet to be rebuilt. This means the general and emergency needs of some 9,000 Viequenses have been neglected for over three years. 

This has contributed to deaths. 

In early 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) approved $39.5 million in funds to help Vieques, a smaller island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, rebuild its only hospital — three years after the devastation. 

It came far too late. 

Just two weeks prior, Jaideliz Moreno Ventura, a 13-year-old, died after the makeshift medical facilities in Vieques fell short. She had experienced serious flu-like symptoms, but her home island hasn’t had a fully-functioning hospital since 2017. 

Even after FEMA’s approval of funds to rebuild the island's only hospital, it has yet to be rebuilt halfway into 2021. 

Since her death, Ventura’s family has announced it is suing Puerto Rico’s government for a violation of human and civil rights. 

New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Puerto Rico-born legislator, has been pressing FEMA for over a year to release aid for Vieques to rebuild its hospital.

In 2020, FEMA said the funds were approved after the Office of Management and Budget on Puerto Rico agreed to provide additional funding to rebuild the hospital based on its “replacement value.”

After conducting an analysis, Puerto Rican authorities estimated the cost to rebuild the hospital is about $44 million. FEMA agreed to only cover $39 million of the costs, while the remaining amount must be covered by the Puerto Rican government. It plans to use CDBG-DR funds assigned to the island by HUD. 

A year later, another child died in Vieques, where there continues to be no hospital. 

The three-year-old boy died Wednesday night in Vieques due to health complications before he was transported by plane to HIMA San Pablo Hospital in Fajardo, to receive care he was unable to get on Vieques, but it came too late. 

The boy, named Yan Hill Rivera, was taken to the Vieques Diagnostic and Treatment Center by his mother the night before, a temporary clinic located in a shelter that has been operating since 2018. 

According to the police report, his doctor ordered the transfer to the main island, but, upon leaving for the airport, the child's condition worsened, so they were forced to return. 

Shortly afterwards, doctors certified his death.

Vieques residents say the boy’s death yet again underscores the lack of a hospital on the island and the government’s failure to rebuild an adequate medical facility. 

With the beginning of the next hurricane season only days away amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Puerto Ricans, especially those in “hospital deserts,” are put in a precarious situation. 

“Just weeks ago, I met with the head of @fema and explained the health crisis in Vieques. I told her it was a matter of life and death and now tragically another child has died because of lack of a proper hospital on the Island. This CANNOT wait,” Velázquez wrote on Twitter. 

This is the second such known occurrence in just under a year, and the health of Puerto Rico’s citizens has not been made the priority. 

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