Over two months following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and medical evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands keep pouring into the state of Georgia at various facilities, including hotels, for medical care. Governor Kenneth Mapp has declared both the Juan F. Luis Hospital (J.F.L.) and the Schneider Regional Medical Center (S.R.M.C.) unusable following the storms, forcing the hospitals to layoff employees while patients are continually being airlifted out of the islands.
But medical evacuees and their caretakers, a number of whom recently made contact with The Consortium, continue to complain about the lack of communication from the Mapp administration relative to their wellbeing and, importantly, a timeline on when they will be returning home.
It was not the first time that the evacuees reached out the publication; in October, following the death of three patients sent to Georgia, medical evacuees expressed frustration after seemingly being forgotten. “I feel like we are the forgotten people and no one has ever inquired how do we feel. I feel like someone should be telling us when we should come home — I want to come home like yesterday,” one medical evacuee in Atlanta told The Consortium.
Following the publishing of the article, Dept. of Health Commissioner Michelle Davis said communication with medical evacuees would improve, and in following statements said the government would work to setup weekly lines of communication. However, medical evacuees The Consortium spoke with said communication, as of Saturday, was still nonexistent, and expressed disappointment that a trip Ms. Davis had scheduled for Georgia for last week was cancelled.
“The governor has failed us,” a caretaker, who along with no less than 30 families residing at the Sonesta ES Suites in Atlanta (seen in the feature image), told The Consortium on Saturday. The caretaker requested anonymity to speak freely about the plight of many Virgin Islanders now in the state of Georgia, who have been dumbfounded about the seeming lack of interest from their government. She said ill individuals from the USVI continue to pour into the state. And a Red Cross volunteer, who assists the medical evacuees and their caretakers, corroborated the caretaker’s complaints.
“If you’re a premature baby, in a coma, or are in need of any emergency care, you’re sent to Georgia,” the medical assistant, he too requesting anonymity, told The Consortium on Friday. He stressed that the problem was not how the evacuees and their caretakers were being treated in Georgia, but rather the seemingly complete abandonment of them by the Mapp administration.
“I wish he would come to Atlanta so he could see for himself and know firsthand what is going on,” the caretaker, referring to Mr. Mapp, told this publication on Saturday. She added that while medical evacuees have been hesitant to speak up, “you would have 100 people to speak with the next time,” if action isn’t taken by the governor. The caretaker, who said she is a meticulous planner, was nettled that, even as Thanksgiving approaches, she had not a clue as to the plans of the Mapp administration in returning residents to the territory.
“I have a life, I have property and I want to go home,” she said. The caretaker also mentioned the recent release of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (DSNAP), and wondered why medical evacuees and their caretakers were not offered the opportunity to receive the aid.
The medical assistant who spoke with this publication on Friday, said Senator Myron Jackson had visited one of the Georgia facilities where evacuees are being housed, but did not meet with the evacuees themselves. Instead, he said, the visit was in typical political fashion: meet with officials of the facility for a tour, but failing to meet with the medical evacuees and caretakers themselves.
The negligence of the government to attend to medical evacuees and their caretakers reflects badly on the Mapp administration, and appears be a failure of the Department of Health. Yet, while the government may eventually move to improve communication to save face, medical evacuees — especially those in constant need of critical care — along with their caretakers should prepare to stay out of the territory for a while, as there are no functioning hospitals in the USVI and the modular hospital units being erected by FEMA on hospital grounds, are not expected to be operable until December.