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Bassett doctors, nurses to help medical-relief efforts in Puerto Rico

By Eric Reinhardt


Bassett clinicians heading to Puerto Rico Sept. 22 on a medical-relief mission include (from left to right) registered nurse Anna Buell; Dr. Celeste Johns, chief of psychiatry; and pediatrician Dr. Chris Kjolhede, Missing from the photo is registered nurse Rachel Gaston. (Photo provided by Bassett Healthcare Network.)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown will send some doctors and nurses to the Puerto Rican island of Vieques to help staff a medical clinic for a week as the territory continues recovering from Hurricane Maria, which slammed it in 2017.

A year after the hurricane “plowed through” Puerto Rico, public-health conditions are “still poor” and access to medical assistance and basic health care is “limited,” Bassett said in a news release issued on Sept. 11.

Dr. Celeste Johns, chief of psychiatry; Dr. Chris Kjolhede, a pediatrician, and registered nurses Rachel Gaston and Anna Buell will join eight other volunteers travelling from New York on Sept. 22.

The group will provide pediatric and general medical care and post-traumatic stress disorder counseling.

Ahead of the group’s departure, Bassett Medical Center sent a shipment of donated medical supplies — including stethoscopes, blood-pressure cuffs and glucose monitors — “in support” of the medical-relief efforts, per the release.

The Bassett team’s travel to Puerto Rico was organized through the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM). UMVIM is based in Atlanta, Georgia, according to its website.

Maria was a category 4 hurricane when it reached Puerto Rico last September, 2017, causing “catastrophic” damage. The storm destroyed the hospital on the island of Vieques, along with the island’s health and water infrastructure.

Chronically ill patients are “still struggling a year later” to get the care they need. Waterborne and infectious diseases “continue to rise,” and the mental-health crisis Puerto Rico faced before Maria “has worsened,” Bassett said.

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