For Immediate Release
RNs Applaud Sen. Sanders Bill for Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands Relief with Crisis Continuing 2 Months Post-Storm
WASHINGTON - With conditions in Puerto Rico continuing to be at crisis levels more than two months after Hurricane Maria caused cataclysmic devastation on the island, National Nurses United enthusiastically welcomed the introduction of a bill by Sen. Bernie Sanders today to drastically step up the critical relief effort.
The Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act is co-sponsored by Senators Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Edward Markey, and Elizabeth Warren. House co-sponsors include Reps. Stacey Plaskett, Darren Soto, and Nydia Velasquez.
It would substantially increase federal funding to rebuild the electric grid and other infrastructure, with an emphasis on energy efficiency and clean energy technologies, and also address critical healthcare, education, housing, agriculture, transportation, and other needs.
“This legislative initiative is long overdue,” said Cathy Kennedy, RN, a NNU vice-president who led a team of 50 RN volunteers sponsored by NNU and the AFL-CIO on a two-week aid mission in October. “The humanitarian and health care crisis in Puerto Rico, that we witnessed every day continues to put people at serious risk. We are proud of Sen. Sanders for taking the leadership to press for urgent action that goes far beyond what the administration has done to date.
Reports put the death count from the storm at 500 or more. Two months after Hurricane Maria, as much as half the island remains without power, and public health concerns continue.
Earlier this month, the New York Times reported an escalating mental health crisis on the island amidst continuing debris everywhere, ongoing shortages of water, food, and medical aid, power outages, closed schools and businesses, and a sense that little is changing.
RN volunteers, who saw the outbreak of the lethal, animal-borne bacterial disease leptospirosis, as well as other serious health hazards linked to the prolonged absence of clean drinking water, chemical contamination, and the spread of black mold in houses with roofs blown off and soaked furniture, particularly welcomed the bill’s focus on healthcare concerns.
The experiences of the RN volunteers are chronicled on this video https://vimeo.com/240917781
The bill calls for more revenue for safe drinking water, an end to limits on Medicaid funding, increased Medicare support for residents and damaged hospitals, and expanded funding for prescription drug coverage to low income people.
NNU also welcomed provisions in the bill calling for debt relief as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the destruction, promotion of environmental safeguards and local community participation in the reconstruction process, measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, maintenance of labor protections, transparency, and local and municipal governing power, and opposition to privatization in the wake of the storm.
Introduction of the bill follows a visit by Sen. Sanders to Puerto Rico in late October. Prior to his fact finding stop, Sanders met with 10 of the RN volunteers in late October who had just returned from the island who described in detail the emergency needs, and how nurses had to spend much of their time delivering food and water, in addition to nursing care.
Earlier that day, the RNs spoke out at a press conference led by Rep. Velazquez, and featuring House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Congress members calling for additional aid.
At the press conference, Kennedy described how “our nurses were deployed across the island in urban and rural areas and returned with heartbreaking stories. It is unconscionable that the people of Puerto Rico are being left to suffer. We hope our elected officials will work to change this.”
National Nurses United, with close to 185,000 members in every state, is the largest union and professional association of registered nurses in US history.