The cost to the Renal Council is $12,400 a month, which includes the price of flights, a paramedic to accompany patients, and food. It was FEMA who originally took on the responsibility for flying the patients back and forth, but it subsequently withdrew to take on other missions. That left non-profit organizations to pick up the bill. Often, patients ended up taking a ferry back and forth, a form of transportation that is unreliable due to the poor condition of the boats and the lack of reserved seats.
Many of the residents of Vieques are struggling economically and cannot afford to leave for locations with better access to treatment. But after a year of having to travel back and forth for dialysis. the patients are tired and weak and wondering when Vieques will get another clinic. Though the flights to San Juan are less than a half an hour, taking them requires travel to the Vieques airport early in the morning (no easy task from some areas of the island); waiting in the airport for a flight which may get cancelled due to weather; transport to the dialysis clinic; several hours of treatment; and then a return home nearly 12 hours later.
Doing this three times a week takes a toll on the physical and mental health of the kidney patients. They are right to be angry about the lack of medical treatment on Vieques—especially because the Puerto Rican government doesn’t seem to have a tenable plan for building a new one. And there are no answers about how to get money to the Renal Council to continue the flights to San Juan for treatment.
“Where is the conscience? Where is the humanity?” [Daisy Cruz, mayor of Vieques, said]. “It’s always, ‘We don’t have the money, we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money.’ But they’re putting at risk lives that we could prolong.”
Cruz is right. There is a complete lack of humanity in how the local and federal governments are treating hurricane survivors. It’s unconscionable. People are dying because of inaction, and no one seems willing to do anything about it.