Matern Child Health J. 2020 Jan;24(1):22-29. doi: 10.1007/s10995-019-02824-2.
Puerto Rico was hit by two major hurricanes in September 2017 causing great devastation, losing over 90% of the power grid, wireless communication and access to potable water, and destroying many homes. Our research programs: Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT), Center for Research on Early Childhood Exposure and Development in Puerto Rico (CRECE), Zika in Infants and Pregnancy (ZIP), and Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) are ongoing observational cohort studies that have been investigating environmental risk factors for perinatal health outcomes among Puerto Rican mothers and infants. Our projects paused operations for about two weeks, to begin recovery process and become a source of assistance, retaining 95% of study participants across all research programs. We joined with various groups to ensure the safety and welfare of team members, study participants, community health center partners, and members of the surrounding communities. We learned important lessons about the impact of these hurricanes and the difficulties of the recovery. Major challenges post-hurricanes were access to care and nutrition, maternal stress, and environmental damage. We understood the need to integrate disaster preparedness into our programs’ operating procedures and future applications, recognizing that these events will recur. We will grow resilience among our staff, maternal and child health partners, and participants by building on the experience of these two storms.