Congressman José E. Serrano

Representing the 15th District of New York

Congressman Serrano Leads Letter to HHS to Address Emerging Public Health Emergency in Puerto Rico

Sep 29, 2017
Press Release

Washington, DC –Congressman José E. Serrano today led eight Members of Congress in sending a letter to Secretary Price and Assistant Secretary Kadlec of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ask for an immediate increase in resources to address the emerging public health emergency in Puerto Rico. Serrano was joined on the letter by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez, Congressman Darren Soto, Congressman Joseph Crowley, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, Congresswoman Grace Meng, and Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy.

“Puerto Rico is on the verge of a serious public health crisis,” said Congressman Serrano.  “HHS can and should do more to ensure individuals have access to medicine and safe drinking water, hospitals can begin to operate at full capacity all over the island, and that we minimize the spread of dangerous diseases. We are at risk of a secondary tragedy without a greater focus on public health.” 

Read the full letter below:

September 28, 2017


The Honorable Tom Price, MD

Secretary of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201

The Honorable Robert Kadlec

Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response 

Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue, SW
Room 638G
Washington, D.C. 20201

Dear Secretary Price and Assistant Secretary Kadlec,

We write to you to ask that the Department of Health and Human Services immediately provide significantly more resources to address the emerging public health emergency in Puerto Rico.  While some resources have been provided to date, there is much more that HHS can and should be doing.

The devastation on the island is total.  Many areas of the island are still effectively cut off due to impassable and damaged roads, leaving hundreds of thousands of individuals without urgently needed medical care. Without electricity, many of the hospitals also lack diesel fuel to run their generators.  Massive flooding has left standing water in many locations, which will undoubtedly lead to an influx of mosquitos and insect borne diseases like Zika, dengue fever, and chikungunya.  Additionally, with much of the island lacking clean and safe access to water, there is a danger that several water-borne diseases will soon spread- including cholera.

While we are pleased that you have declared a public health emergency and started to mobilize resources, we believe that there are further actions that you must take to prevent further loss of life.  First, there needs to be an immediate effort, in concert with local authorities, to provide mosquito abatement to reduce the spread of mosquitos and other insects that spread dangerous disease. Second, we believe the Strategic National Stockpile must be utilized in order to provide life-saving medicine to individuals with urgent medical needs. Although medical units from the Stockpile are being utilized- medications are not.  Given the large number of pharmacies that remain closed on the island, it is becoming difficult for many individuals to fill necessary prescriptions, and this would help alleviate these concerns.  Third, we ask that HHS coordinate the deployment of additional medical personnel to the island, in particular to areas where hospitals are without electricity, and areas currently cut off from the major metropolitan areas.  Lastly, we urge you to work to restore safe drinking water with your partners at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and elsewhere.

The scale of this disaster has created conditions of great danger with regard to public health.  As the primary agency tasked with protecting public health under the National Response Framework, we urge you to immediately act to expand your efforts and take steps to stop a secondary crisis from developing.