Skip to main content


Fuel Shortage Blamed for Patient Deaths at Puerto Rico Hospital

By Hospital Safety Insider  
   September 29, 2017

A healthcare crisis is unfolding on the U.S. island more than a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall.

By Steven Porter

This story originally appeared in Hospital Safety Insider, September 28, 2017.

Only 11 of the 69 hospitals on Puerto Rico had access this week to either electricity or fuel for backup generators, as the U.S. territory seeks to recover from the extensive damage caused last week by Hurricane Maria.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz told CBS News that two patients died in one of the capital city’s hospitals due to the diesel shortage. In the tearful interview, Cruz pleaded with federal officials to pick up the pace of their response activity; without quick action, hundreds of lives will be lost, she warned. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said it had more than 500 personnel on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands supporting response and recovery operations from both Maria and Irma as of Tuesday. Among other duties, they will establish seven temporary hospitals on the island, FEMA noted.

Fuel deliveries are so important that armed guards are being employed to prevent people from intercepting some of the limited supply, Reuters reported, citing cardiovascular surgeon Ivan Gonzalez Cancel, MD, director of the heart transplant program at Centro Cardiovascular in San Juan.

“Another hospital wants to transfer two critical patients here because they don’t have electricity,” Gonzalez Cancel told Reuters. “We can’t take them. We have the same problem.”

Without air conditioning, condensation is clinging to OR walls and making floors wet and slipper, he added, noting that most patients had been evacuated or discharged.

The dire situation comes as 44% of the population lacks potable water, and heat indices surpassed 100° Fahrenheit this week, with scattered showers and thunderstorms forecast for Thursday through Saturday.

Hospital Safety Insider

Get the latest on healthcare leadership in your inbox.