San Juan — Disabled and elderly people were discharged from overwhelmed hospitals with bedsores that led to fatal infections. Medical oxygen ran out. People caught lung infections in sweltering private nursing homes and state facilities. Kidney patients got abbreviated treatments from dialysis centers that lacked generator fuel and fresh water, despite pleas for federal and local officials to treat them as a higher priority, according to patient advocates.
There was Ernesto Curiel, a diabetic who died after walking 10 flights twice a day to fetch insulin from his building's only working refrigerator. Alejandro González Vázquez, 47 — unable to obtain his antipsychotic medication, he killed himself instead of boarding his flight back to the US mainland. Juana Castro Rivera, 52, dead of leptospirosis, a disease transmitted by contaminated water. After several visits to a community clinic, she was diagnosed — too late — by a hospital in a neighbouring municipality.
The joint project interviewed 204 families of the dead and reviewed accounts of 283 more to tell the stories of heretofore anonymous victims. Dozens more have contacted the Quartz, CPI and AP since their results were first reported.
Along with post-storm conditions, each death has a complex mix of causes that can include serious pre-existing conditions and individual decisions by patients, caregivers and doctors, making it difficult to definitively apportion blame in every case. But critics say many could have been saved by better preparation and emergency response.