Closure of Puerto Rico medical emergency bases raises concern
SAN JUAN — Villalba Mayor Luis J. Hernández voiced concern over the closure of several bases under the State Emergency Medical Corps Bureau in several Puerto Rico towns due to the agency’s alleged lack of personnel.
He also noted that he was still waiting for an official notice from the bureau regarding the elimination of the only state ambulance stationed in the mountain town, adding he was already aware the ambulance was no longer available.
“What they had was [an ambulance] parked in our firehouse. Since it sometimes had to go to other municipalities, and knowing what happened could happen, we acquired an ambulance from the municipality and we looked for paramedics and we joined 9-1-1. We aren’t happy that they took it because ours was to supplement them and now it’s the other way around,” Hernández explained.
The mayor said that as soon as he receives the official notice, he will request the transfer of a bureau ambulance for municipal use.
“We are very concerned because it is a sensitive situation. The government’s response in these situations could make the difference between life and death,” he said.
Moreover, bureau Commissioner Guillermo Torruella acknowledged some weeks ago that lack of personnel resulted in base closures, which in turn has resulted in a longer emergency response times. He said that “in recent years” the agency has lost nearly 300 paramedics. The official assured he was developing contingency plans because the bureau lacks the budget to hire new staff.
Paramedics denounce staffing decline
Meanwhile, the United State Paramedics organization announced Monday a demonstration in front of the Capitol to raise awareness of a shortage of these health professionals on the island, which they attributed to harsh work conditions.
According to Griselle Natal, a spokesperson for the organization, Puerto Rico’s state paramedics earn $7.25 an hour, or $1,725 a month, and are owed overtime hours worked between 2012 and 2017, especially in the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Demonstrators were gathering at the Capitol, where they will meet with Sens. Abel Nazario and Henry Neumann, and a spokesperson for independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot. At 2 p.m., they were slated to march to the governor’s office and residence, La Fortaleza, where they will be met by an adviser.
Besides a salary increase, demonstrators are demanding equal treatment for all employees under the Public Safety Department (PSD). Natal explained that paramedics are required certain licenses, including a Public Safety Commission license, that is not required of other PSD personnel.