Consistent treatment is essential for children with a disability or with autism. This is why a week after Hurricane Maria struck the island, SER de Puerto Rico’s therapists were already offering their services at the organization’s centers in Ponce and San Juan.
“If our kids’ conditions aren’t treated, they worsen,” explained Nilda Morales, president of SER de Puerto Rico, a nonprofit that annually works with 4,600 children and adults with special needs.
“That’s why we’re very punctual with our interventions. Because as you optimize their development, you give them the possibility of being independent, productive, and self-sufficient,” she pointed out.
The electric power services at SER’s facilities in the southern part of Puerto Rico were restored the third week after the hurricane, even though most of the Island remained dark. They were able to resume normal operations. In San Juan, on the other hand, the walls of the building were covered with mold because of flooding and lack of electric power.
While they were able to disinfect the school and resume classes, the rehabilitation wing still needs more work. So, the therapists continue to do what they’ve been doing from the beginning: offering therapy in an outdoor court and in exterior classrooms powered by small generators, within a limited schedule.
“We have also sent our specialists to communities where we identified people with disabilities,” continued Morales, adding that this has been a joint effort with FEMA and other entities.
SER’s expanded effort began with the island municipalities, Vieques in particular, which SER has visited on a weekly basis. There they found cases of bedridden elderly people, children with developmental issues, and disabled people being cared for by their families without any external support. Through FEMA they were able to obtain equipment such as wheelchairs, while also offering primary medical services and access to psychologists and social workers for family members. Currently they are in the process of preparing a school that’s not being used in Fajardo in order to serve the people of the east coast and island municipalities.
SER de Puerto Rico is also establishing a model of remote rehabilitation services in Vieques and Culebra that they will then replicate in other underserved municipalities such as Villalba, Maricao, Ciales, Orocovis and Morovis. This consists of training a family member, nurse or therapy assistant to give therapy under the supervision of a doctor or therapist that will provide an evaluation of the patient’s needs and give recommendations via Skype or Facetime.
“This is a new scenario for us but our families teach us every day how to face adverse events that can affect your day. Because they live with disability or autism, we who give them these services to develop their skills can’t do less. They have been our guides and our inspiration and we have to be there for each of them,” concludes Morales.