USC volunteers gather supplies for Puerto Rico

Photo from USC News

Volunteers at the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center packaged medical supplies to ship to the University of Puerto Rico Medical Center on Monday morning in an initiative led by Mariana Stern and Larissa Rodriguez, professors at the USC Keck School of Medicine.

Approximately 50 to 60 boxes of supplies, which include disposable gloves, syringes, antibiotics and surgical tools, will be shipped out to the island on Tuesday after weeks of coordinating materials from medical facilities and pharmacies, according to Stern.

Stern, a professor of research preventive medicine and urology, felt compelled to provide aid efforts for the island after speaking with her colleague, Marcia Cruz-Correa, a professor at UPR.

“When Hurricane Maria impacted the island, [Cruz-Correa] told me what situation they were in. .. and they told me they needed supplies — supplies they use on a daily basis that they couldn’t get because they’re completely isolated from the rest of the world,” she said.

The UPR Medical Center is currently one of the best running hospitals on the island after its electricity was restored, according to Rodriguez, a professor of urology. It also has a comprehensive cancer center, similar to USC Norris, where most of the supplies will be directed.

“There’s tremendous need in many aspects of medical care in Puerto Rico right now,” Rodriguez said, referring to the importance of support for hospitals across the island, many of which are running on electrical generators.

Currently, the UPR Medical Center is not operating in its full capacity — only 12 of 35 operating rooms are open after the hurricane. Rodriguez said their needs are incredibly basic and can easily be supplied from the mainland.

The USC Norris Center has dedicated a budget to this batch of medical supplies, under the discretion of Alan Wayne, the center’s director. Yet, Rodriguez and Stern still remain involved with Puerto Rico aid efforts.

The two doctors are involved with Doctoras Boricuas, a network of physician volunteers created after the hurricanes that coordinates supplies directly to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Rodriguez has also launched her own funding efforts among friends and colleagues and reached out to Puerto Rican students at USC — many of whom are independently working on fundraisers — to foster a support system.

“The efforts that the government [is providing] are not enough to cover all the resources, so we really need, in the coming months, more of the grassroots efforts,” Stern said.

According to Rodriguez, the supplies are only estimated to last the UPR Medical Center one month.

“[It’s going to take] a while for Puerto Rico to stand on their two feet in terms of the medical system,” Rodriguez said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that the budget for these supplies is $300,000. The budget was undisclosed. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.