Professor Jodie Roure’s Experience in Puerto Rico Inspires A Free Surgical Program For The Island

Para leer en español

Ever since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Jodie Roure, Associate Professor of Latin American and Latina/o Studies at John Jay, has been instrumental in the island’s recovery. Initially, she led the Doctors for Maria Relief efforts and brought 25 doctors and nurses to the island. Now, more than a year after Hurricane Maria, with the people of Puerto Rico still feeling the effects of one of the deadliest Atlantic hurricanes in history, Roure has collaborated with the medical community in hopes of providing the island’s people with the continued medical care they need.


Roure con médicos profesionales en Puerto Rico

Roure (front row on the right) with Doctors for Maria Relief


With extensive experience in Puerto Rico’s relief efforts, Roure attended the American College of Surgeons’ (ACS) Boston Conference on October 22, to present on the efforts. Also in attendance were Dr. Girma Tefera, Director of Operation Giving Back (OGB); Dr. Michael Lekawa, Chief of Trauma/Critical Care at the University of California, Irvine; Dr. Matthew Dolich, Clinical Professor of Surgery at the University of California, Irvine; and Dr. Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, Secretary of Health of Puerto Rico. During the presentation, Roure and the doctors announced the creation of a free surgical program. “I have been working to build this program with the American College of Surgeons and Secretary of Health of Puerto Rico since October 2017,” said Roure. “This is the first time ever that a program like this has been rolled out in the United States by the ACS.”

Inspired by the devastation of Hurricane Maria, Roure, the doctors, along with their Operation Giving Back (OBG) program, has made it their mission to provide aid to countries after natural disasters, and lend a voice to the humanitarian culture.

“Hurricane Maria caused over 3,000 fatalities by current tallies, over 100 billion dollars in damages and was the cause of the longest blackout in U.S. history.” —Dr. Matthew Dolich


The Hurricane’s Influence
On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was struck by a catastrophic category four hurricane that left the island struggling to survive. “Hurricane Maria caused over 3,000 fatalities by current tallies, over 100 billion dollars in damages, and was the cause of the longest blackout in US history,” said Dr. Dolich. “There was disruption of the electrical grid, water supply, cellular communications, and the island’s infrastructure created issues with medical care. Hospitals were running on backup generators, there were access problems for patients and there was a ‘Puerto Rican diaspora.’” Explaining this diaspora, Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Health spoke about the island’s lack of healthcare professionals. “Congress had previously passed a law called Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA)which granted medical professionals the ability to leave the island to work in 12 U.S. states with their medical license from Puerto Rico,” said Dr. Rodríguez Mercado. “Since people started to migrate to the [continental] United States, we had a medical challenge on the island, especially in the areas where the people are underserved.” Understanding the island’s need for medical assistance, three weeks after the hurricane, ACS along with over 350 medical volunteers, traveled to Puerto Rico to provide much needed relief.

(left to right) Dr. Rafael Rodríguez Mercado, Dr. Matthew Dolich, Dr. Michael Lekawa and Professor Jodie Roure

The ACS’s Mission
Once in Puerto Rico, ACS conducted an initial site visit assessing the need for assistance with the surgical caseload, identifying potential partners, and identifying HURRA Hospital in Bayamón as a site able to accommodate a volunteer surgical workforce. With an emphasis on offering inspiration and strengthening the humanitarian culture, ACS’s mission is to create the framework for social change. “What we are trying to do in terms of transforming Puerto Rico with doctors, is working with different organizations to not rebuild Puerto Rico the way it was, but talk about transforming it with solar energy, solar panels, and underground electric grids that are hurricane resistant,” said Roure. Along with ensuring that Puerto Rico is rebuilt to withstand future devastation, Roure is advocating for the future of humanitarian crises. “Since returning from Puerto Rico, we’ve received several requests from Washington, D.C. to provide testimony before Congress, subcommittees of Congress, green Latinos and the Sierra Club in D.C.,” said Roure. “We’ve discussed ways in which we can partner with them, CUNY Service Corps and the community outreach program at John Jay College.”


“Humanitarian crises and natural disasters occur all around the world, and as global citizens, we should be concerned about that. We need to promote global consciousness and that’s what I’m trying to do.” —Professor Jodie Roure


The Humanitarian’s Future
Eager to continue their humanitarian efforts, OGB and ACS are working together to offer a free surgical program. This program will give students the chance to volunteer in the medical community with a future goal of creating a medical diversity pipeline program for the students. “After a decade of experience, we’re demonstrating how medical organizations can work together to create a pipeline of the next generation of health care providers,” said Dr. Barry D. Mann, program director, general surgery residency training program, Lankenau Medical Center, Wynnewood, PA. Appreciative of the relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Dr. Rodríguez Mercado hopes that the creation of this program is long lasting. “The feel is that once we establish this program, there will be continuity. We need to make sure that the people who come after me continue to work in collaboration with the American College of Surgeons,” he said. With a goal of strengthening humanitarian efforts, Roure has formed a not-for-profit corporation called Hurricane Maria Assistance & Relief Institutional Alliance Inc. (Hurricane MARIA, Inc.). Formerly called Doctors for Maria Relief, this organization, filed under section 402 of the Not-for-Profit Corporation Law, donates medicine, food, doctors and nurses to support the efforts already occurring in Puerto Rico. “Humanitarian crises and natural disasters occur all around the world, and as global citizens, we should be concerned about that,” stated Roure. “We need to promote global consciousness and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

To learn more about Roure’s work in Puerto Rico, and how she began her career in human rights, watch the videos below.