Cutbacks In Puerto Rico's Support Services Threaten Ill Elderly : Shots - Health News Ausberto Maldonado picked corn and asparagus for years on the U.S. mainland before retiring in Puerto Rico. He has diabetes, and as the island's safety net wears thin, he's struggling to survive.
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Time's Running Out For Many Frail, Older People In Puerto Rico

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Time's Running Out For Many Frail, Older People In Puerto Rico

Time's Running Out For Many Frail, Older People In Puerto Rico

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico more than six months ago, and for people living on tight budgets, the storm's economic aftermath has been an enormous challenge. Reporter Sarah Varney went to the suburb of San Juan and she met a retired man who's living day-to-day.

SARAH VARNEY: Straddled across Ausberto Maldonado's backyard in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, is a nagging reminder of Hurricane Maria's destructive power.

AUSBERTO MALDONADO: See that tree broke off that branch, but the branch is as thick as the tree. So now I got the tree in my yard.

VARNEY: Rats scurry from under the downed tree, preventing Maldonado from hanging his laundry. To get the tree removed, he has to show up in person at a local government office, but the diabetic ulcers on his feet make it painful to walk.

MALDONADO: That's why I have to walk thinking about where I'm going to step.

VARNEY: Six months after the storm, the daily indignities are piling up. After a lifetime of work in the States picking corn and asparagus and processing chickens in poultry plants, Maldonado receives $280 a month in Social Security. He gets $89 a month in food stamps or about $3 a day.

MALDONADO: And over here, I have some corned beef, a can of spaghettis.

VARNEY: Maldonado opens the cupboards in his tidy kitchen. When I ask him what he usually makes for himself, he looks wistful.

MALDONADO: When I have enough food, when I do my groceries, I have eggs and bread and coffee and juice for breakfast. I would make spaghettis or some sort of salad and maybe a little dessert.

VARNEY: But in truth, the oven is unplugged. There is no juice or eggs or lettuce. It's been months since he's had fresh vegetables in the house.

MALDONADO: When there's very little, then I kind of go on a diet, my homemade diet.

VARNEY: It was hard enough for the 65-year-old retiree to fill his cupboards before the storm, but now, aid groups are winding down their donations and he has to find money for bottled water and replace his refrigerator that was ruined during the hurricane. He'll wait for his next Social Security check to buy groceries.

MALDONADO: And I'm waiting until the 10 so I can go do my grocery shopping again and see if I find a way to get there. And that's when I would have food again, enough to make three meals - lunch, breakfast and dinner.

VARNEY: Keeping up his diet isn't simply about staving off hunger. Diabetes is consuming his foot, and unless he eats healthy and takes his insulin, he'll have to get his foot amputated. He stores his insulin in the broken fridge.

MALDONADO: The pharmacist said that it could be stored at a dark place for a couple of weeks.

VARNEY: Ideally, insulin should be kept cool, but broken refrigerators and lack of power in many homes in Puerto Rico pose grim hazards for the island's soaring population of diabetics.

MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).

VARNEY: A visiting nurse, Leslie Robles, shows up for her monthly visit to Maldonado's home. She examines the 3-inch long gaping wound on his foot. They sit at the kitchen table under a painting of "The Last Supper" and sift through piles of paperwork for an upcoming cataract surgery.

LESLIE ROBLES: (Speaking Spanish).

VARNEY: Robles tells him that the free medical transportation service that the government made available to large numbers of people after the storm is expiring soon, and he'll no longer qualify for free rides. What Robles doesn't say is that the visiting nurse program that was paid for by the government is shutting down too, and it's unclear how much longer she can help him. I'm Sarah Varney in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

KING: Sarah Varney reports for our partner, Kaiser Health News.

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