400 Healthcare Professionals Have Lost Jobs During This Coronavirus Crisis

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By Cristy Marrero

April 3, 2020

More than 500 cops and firemen have been put in quarantine and 50% of a pediatric hospital staff will be filling for unemployment when they are most needed.

San Juan—Puerto Rico’s first responders are feeling the effect of the first weeks of coronavirus on the Island. Police officers, firemen, and medical personnel are being impacted in different ways by the emergency produced in the country by the disease.

The secretary of public affairs, Osvaldo Soto, confirmed yesterday, that there are currently 480 police officers in quarantine throughout the country. Those agents belong to police stations from different regions, especially from the western part of the island, from towns like Rincón, Mayagüez, Moca and San Germán. Among the police, the most affected are agents from the Drug Division, Strike Force, Explosives Division and the Cyber Crimes Unit.

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Earlier this month, the Organized Police Association asked the Government to give the police force the equipment and training necessary to deal with the coronavirus. After the complaint, the police have received gloves, masks and sanitizer but in a limited way, due to the existing world shortage. Officers can still be seen every day doing their job without adequate protection.

In addition to the daily exposure that the police have to deal with, some of the cases had come indirectly. For example, the Police Station of Rincon, one of the most touristic towns, had to close completely after the wife of an officer tested positive for COVID–19. Just like that, 30 police officers were quarantined. The woman passed away.

This situation has caused a spike in the criminal activity on the island—already on the rise after Hurricane Maria due to the large number of police officers that left the country seeking a better life. Homicides, carjackings and robberies are among the main crimes on the island, according to statistics provided by the Police Department.

In light of the situation, on Thursday federal judge Gustavo Gelpí ordered the Police Bureau to establish a COVID-19 protocol within a week, which would ensure that the police continued to operate despite the casualties. Some voices are calling for governor Vázquez to mobilize the National Guard to support police duties.  

The Fire Department Bureau also had to send 40 firemen into quarantine after the wife of one of them tested positive on Monday. In a press release, the Commissioner of the Bureau of the Fire Department, Alberto Cruz Albarrán, said that all firemen will be tested and the Fire Station of Puerta de Tierra in San Juan will be completely disinfected. The measures raised concern, as the nearest stations are 15 to 30 minutes away, which is considerable time if a fire breaks out.

Reduction in the health workforce

The most surprising reduction in first responders amid the pandemic has taken place in hospitals. Approximately 400 health professionals in different health centers have been temporarily dismissed from their positions. Among them, San Jorge Children’s Hospital, which reduced 50% of its staff during the week in which the first three cases of coronavirus were reported in the child population.

José Luis Rodríguez, executive director of San Jorge said to local newspaper El Nuevo Día that the reduction was motivated by a dramatic decrease in the daily services the hospital regularly provides during the past few weeks. 

“The suspension is until the volume increases again because if I don’t need them, I don’t call them,” he said. “But when I need them, I’ll call them. This can be as fast as when the curfew is over or when patients start arriving.”

Other hospitals that have reduced their workforce are Bayamón Medical Center and the Puerto Rico Women and Children’s Hospital.

Dr. Víctor Ramos, president of College of Surgeons, also confirmed that four doctors tested positive for COVID-19. One of them requires the use of a ventilator.

Ramos has been one of the voices raising alarm about the constant exodus of health professionals from the island to the United States. These temporary dismissals may increase that tendency, at a time when the projections of local authorities indicate that the worst part of the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to come. 



CATEGORIES: Coronavirus | Puerto Rico


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