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A team of VCU clinicians and students heads to Puerto Rico to assist with hurricane relief efforts

The six-person team will fly to the island Dec. 16 and spend a week at the Clinica Bantiox in Toa Baja, just west of San Juan.

Mark Ryan and Emily Peron are two of six VCU clinicians and students traveling to Puerto Rico Dec. 16 to assist with Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
<br>Contributed photos
Mark Ryan and Emily Peron are two of six VCU clinicians and students traveling to Puerto Rico Dec. 16 to assist with Hurricane Maria relief efforts.
Contributed photos

Students and faculty alike usually want to kick back and relax once the fall semester ends. But an interprofessional team from Virginia Commonwealth University instead will pack up donated supplies and use their skills in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The VCU team includes Mark Ryan, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine and medical director of the I²CRP program; Emily Peron, Pharm.D., an assistant professor in the School of Pharmacy; School of Medicine students Gabriel Martinez Alvarez and Frank Soto del Valle; School of Pharmacy student Camilla De Jesus Pinero; and Carla Shaffer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist. They will fly to the island Dec. 16 and spend a week at the Clinica Bantiox in Toa Baja, just west of San Juan.

Peron, in high spirits, relaxes after packing donated supplies ahead of the trip.
Peron, in high spirits, relaxes after packing donated supplies ahead of the trip.

Hurricane Maria, the 10th-most intense hurricane recorded, made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing a humanitarian crisis and devastating damage.

Ryan was introduced to the clinic in October when he participated in a medical service trip to Puerto Rico with colleagues from other universities.

“I got to meet some organizations I feel will be good partners and that are providing community-oriented care,” he said. “What we don’t want to do is go down there and set up our own thing disconnected from other efforts.”

He believes the VCU team will be able to staff the clinic while some of its regular staff does community outreach, or the team will be able to do the outreach themselves to relieve weary workers. Puerto Rico has a reciprocal agreement so that licensed clinicians can practice there as long as they are registered with government officials.

Ryan believes the group will serve a vital purpose.

“Having been there and seeing the need in chronic disease, the need in managing ongoing health issues for patients who suffered such trauma, and supporting our colleagues who’ve been doing this double-shift for two months … it feels important to be there,” he said.

Supporting our colleagues who’ve been doing this double-shift for two months … it feels important to be there.

Because Puerto Rico’s infrastructure — especially telecommunications — was destroyed, Ryan found that one of the biggest challenges this fall was basic communication: who would be where, when. Because the VCU team will stay in one location all week, Ryan expects things to be easier.

Two students on the team have family on the island. They will be interested to see firsthand how their loved ones are faring. Those local connections also provide benefits to the team. They will have the chance to get offsite, as they’ll be staying in the home of one team member and using a car loaned by the family of another. That allows them flexibility and eases the budget somewhat. It will also allow the team to evaluate other potential partners for future service trips.

 

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