Weathering the Storms
Sometimes the aftermath is more devastating than the storm, but as forces of nature bear down on our loved ones, the immediate danger, the desperate uncertainty, and fear for the future loom large.
On September 20th, 2017 Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico with what has been described as “apocalyptic” Category 4 force, the most powerful storm to hit the island since 1932. The entire island lost power. Homes were destroyed. Towns were flooded. Lives were lost. And now, over a week later, Puerto Ricans struggle to find food, water, and gasoline amidst the devastation. We often look at these events and despair at the scale of the humanitarian crisis, but for me this was personal.
At 4am, September 20th, I got a text message from my sister in Bayamon, Puerto Rico that said “I’m scared. Very scared.“
I was frightened and anxious as well, worried about how she and her two young children would make it through a pending disaster of such epic proportions. Then I didn’t hear from my sister for another 24 hours (all communications with the island were knocked out by the storm). Living with 24 hours of anxiety left my mind, body and spirit in tumult. My fingers were raw from my biting my nails. My legs were tired from my pacing. My shoulders were “crunchy” from the added weight. My family was caught in the midst of a true humanitarian crisis. My family was left without power, money or water in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Finally, 24 hours later I received a phone call from an unknown number. It was my sister. They were ok, physically, but scrambling for resources and to try to recover from the damage in the wake of the storm. But the people in Puerto Rico are not alright. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Close to 4 million Americans are without food, power and water. This is beyond being undignified. My heart is broken.
I’m over 3,000 miles away from my family, and with very little getting in and out of Puerto Rico, one is left feeling impotent in the face of tragedy. We’ve re-established regular contact with my sister, and are trying to pass on whatever information we can and planning for worst case scenarios together.
Meanwhile, my family here in California is bracing for numerous “political” hurricanes in the guise of healthcare reform. The Graham-Cassidy bill thundered down on like a hurricane unexpectedly forming overnight. It was recently pulled and we can breathe a brief sigh of relief. But I can’t help but wonder, when is the next storm? What havoc will it bring?
We do know that the CHIME Act of 2017 (Community Health Investment, Modernization & Excellence) is on the table as federally qualified health centers around the country are facing what is called a “Funding Cliff”. Health centers cannot plan for the future in terms of staffing, or adding services and locations without certainty about this vital source of funding. We are watching the storm on the horizon gather strength, and need to prepare.
We need you all to call your congressional representatives and urge them to pass the CHIME Act.
While we strive to weather these storms, both natural and legislative, we here at UMMA continue to focus on being patient-driven. In these uncertain times we want our patients to know and feel that they are number one in our eyes. We are committed to their well-being.
First off, we are creating a new Member Services and Advocacy department that is going to help ensure that patients are given the red-carpet treatment because we believe that South L.A. deserves it and will also help further educate patients to use their own voices for social justice. Our Golden rule for UMMA is that we will always do what is in the best interest of our patients.
Second, we are co-hosting, with the LA Neighborhood Land Trust and Food Forward, a completely free farmer’s market at our Fremont Wellness center and community garden every Wednesday from 3-5pm. The first week, 1,200 lbs. of fresh produce was distributed. Just writing this sentence brings tears to my eyes. The power of food cannot be underestimated and as millions in Puerto Rico are without food right at this moment, I am happy that we can be part of this effort here to address food insecurity in our own backyard. We not only distribute produce but we are also doing health education and cooking demonstrations.
Third, we just received a grant from HRSA for Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services where we will specifically be focusing on increasing access to substance abuse services. These services will focus on the treatment, prevention, and awareness of opioid abuse in the primary care setting by increasing personnel, leveraging health information technology, and providing training. We know that our community needs these services and we are eager to provide these services in a culturally responsive and respectful manner. All together, these new services will help UMMA continue to focus on the provision of whole person care with dignity.
Dignity. I always come back to this concept. Now more than ever we must all work to enhance and uphold dignity for everyone across all walks of life. Now is the time to be a warrior on behalf of dignity. Millions of people are being stripped of their dignity, but we can help by surrounding them in the embrace of compassion, social justice and healthcare equity. Sometimes it seems that we as a nation are now held in thrall by Congress’ legislative calendar, waiting for the next horrific possibility to emerge, but as author D.H. Lawrence once said, “Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar”.