Pharmacy Access in Puerto Rico Suffered After Hurricane Maria

Community pharmacists help patients access crucial health care services after a natural disaster occurs, including filling medications that treat illnesses and chronic conditions, and immunization needs. Pharmacists in Puerto Rico were challenged to adequately respond to patients’ needs after Hurricane Maria due to various structural and individual barriers, concluded an analysis by Carlos Rodríguez-Díaz, an associate professor of prevention and community health at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Rodríguez-Díaz, in collaboration with his mentee, Kyle Melin, an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico School of Pharmacy, are working together to reduce the negative impact of natural disasters through research and evaluation after what Puerto Rico experienced in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.  

Rodríguez-Díaz and Melin argued pharmacists could not properly respond to patients’ needs after Hurricane Maria because of medication shortages, extended loss of power on the island, and limited telecommunications for contacting prescribers, disaster relief agencies, and insurance companies.

“This put pharmacists in the difficult position of needing to dispense maintenance medications without prescriptions, authorized refills, or an emergency protocol to guide practice,” wrote Rodríguez-Díaz and Melin. “As the vast majority of community pharmacies in Puerto Rico are independent, small businesses, the necessity of dispensing much-needed medications to patients without any guarantee of reimbursement further led to significant concerns of financial survival.”

The authors call for further research to understand the individual, interpersonal, and environmental factors that affect community pharmacies after natural disasters so officials can develop policies and emergency protocols that better help pharmacists serve patients in future disasters.

The paper, titled “Community pharmacy response in the aftermath of natural disasters: Time-sensitive opportunity for research and evaluation,” was published online Nov. 23 in the Journal of Primary Care and Community Health.