The last year has been a very difficult one for our brothers and sisters from Puerto Rico. After already having their economy damaged by the debt of Wall Street investors and having corporations taking advantage of Puerto Rico's bond market, the people of the island were further impacted by privatization and austerity. In this atmosphere, the United States Government passed the the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) which created an unelected Fiscal Control Board (FCB). The FCB then massively cut payments to pensions and public services, particularly healthcare and education, so that the government could prioritize paying investors. It was under this backdrop that the island was wrecked with the once-in-a-lifetime storm that was Hurricane Maria.
These factors, along with the U.S. Government's inadequate response set the stage for a tragedy of historic proportions. The medical relief effort was, by all measures, inadequate. Virtually the entire island lost power and it still has not been completely restored. Irresponsible agreements with unqualified contractors kept the power from getting restored adequately. This created a void that needed to be filled by the people. NYSNA, along with other unions, healthcare organizations, and the State of New York mobilized to fill the gap. Our newly created New York Recovery Network (NYRN) engaged in nearly a dozen medical missions to Puerto Rico and other locations affected by hurricanes, including Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands. You can sign up to volunteer here or donate here.
These missions were essential, but they clearly are not enough. NYSNA also believes that we have to stand with people affected by these disasters to minimize their impact and to prevent them from happening again. This means advocating for economic justice on the local, national, and global level and fighting the causes of these superstorms, like climate change.
With the recent announcement that the government had drastically underreported the number of fatalities in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria, NYSNA mobilized into action. First, on Saturday, June NYSNA joined a demonstration at the United Nations calling for a fair accounting of the destruction and fatalities in Puerto Rico. Be sure to watch NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, RN, give her speech in this video. Later that same day, we also joined a panel with other union leaders discussing the response of ordinary working people to the tragedy. This video captures the spirit of both events, showing how we must put our beliefs in action.
The following weekend NYSNA joined New York City's annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, where the usually ebullient affair was overshadowed by tragedy of the previous year for the people of Puerto Rico. In addition to using this opportunity to call attention to structural problems limiting Puerto Rico's recovery like PROMESA, we called upon all people to remember Puerto Rico until they have a full and fair recovery that respects the people of Puerto Rico. One of the single most effective tools in this effort is showing the beauty, humanity, and resiliance of the people of Puerto Rico, which this video of NYSNA participants does.
This week, on Monday, June 18, 2018, we continued with our advocacy when President Gonzalez joined a number of allies in speaking before the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization. Here, we discussed the United States Government's woefully inadequate response to the Hurricane Maria. Click here to watch Judy's entire speech before the U.N. This article provides a good overview of the speakers and the demands of the petitioners.
While the struggle continues in Puerto Rico, we, as nurses, are also mindful not to neglect other areas of suffering where we can have an impact. The most urgent of those areas we have identified is along the southern border of the United States, where children are being separated from their families. Until the cruel policy of separating children from their parents ends, nurses can play a role in caring for those in need. We are preparing to deploy, along with our allies in the RN Response Network (RNRN), to the border to provide healthcare assessment and services to immigrant children being held in detention centers.
If you would like to join this special medical mission (or any other), please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is imperative for us, as nurses, to continue to advocate for all patients, especially the voiceless. A commitment to caring is what called us to this profession. We must continue to answer that call.