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Hurricane Maria Leaves Patients With Cancer in 'Dire' Situation

Hurricane Maria may have passed, but many patients with cancer living in Puerto Rico are still struggling with barriers to care as the island begins to rebuild.
BY Brielle Urciuoli
PUBLISHED October 06, 2017
Hurricane Maria may have passed, but many patients with cancer living in Puerto Rico are still struggling with barriers to care as the island begins to rebuild.

“The situation facing people with cancer in Puerto Rico is dire,” Jane Levy, LCSW-R, director of Patient Assistance Programs at CancerCare, said in an interview with CURE. We’ve heard from oncology providers that some of their patients are trying to evacuate and seek care in the continental United States.”

Two-thirds of cancer care is administered not through hospitals, but through community centers, many of which have been destroyed or, like the majority of Puerto Rico, are still without power. And while some are up and running, many patients who remain on the island are still unable to get treatment. The exact number of patients in need is currently unknown, Levy said.

“Based on what we are hearing from providers on the ground, there many challenges facing patients with cancer in Puerto Rico, including lack of transportation, unreliable communication channels and lack of basic necessities such as food, water and power,” said Brian Tomlinson, chief program and communications officer at CancerCare.

To help more people get the treatment that they need, CancerCare and the Community Oncology Alliance (COA) are teaming up and offering support to the cancer community in Puerto Rico.

COA, a group of oncologists, is in contact with health care providers there, assessing their situation and what is needed to get fully functioning again.

Meanwhile, CancerCare, a nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance for patients with cancer, is providing funds for patients on the island. They are also aiding with resource referrals, emotional support, educational information and transportation by partnering with local medical transportation companies.
Currently, CancerCare is also looking into partnerships with a local courier service to get medications delivered to local clinics.

CancerCare’s aid is not only limited to people in Puerto Rico. Those who escaped the island and are now seeking treatment in the U.S. can also look to the organization for help with their treatment-related costs.

To-date, more than $200,000 has been raised. Those interested in donating can do so by visiting community.cancercare.org/Hurricane.

Patients interested in getting assistance can call CancerCare’s toll-free Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673).

“We are encouraging oncology providers to have patients call for assistance while they are in a doctor’s office with reliable phone and internet connection. The application can be sent via email,” Tomlinson said.
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