MAITLAND, Fla. – October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and two partnering health organizations saw a influx of patients in need from Puerto Rico.
For the past five years, Shepherd's Hope and Sand Lake Imaging have provided free mammograms to hundreds of uninsured or underinsured women in Central Florida.
This October was different, as the "Get a Mammogram, Give a Mammogram" initiative kicked off weeks after Hurricane Maria left behind devastation for millions of residents of Puerto Rico, including some cancer patients who were in the middle of their treatment when disaster struck.
"And we're seeing cancer patients who may have just had treatment, or surgical, and now
they're coming over, and while they may have had insurance coverage on the island, they're
not having it transfer here to the states because it's a particular plan," said Marni Stahlman, president and CEO of Shepherd's Hope.
Volunteers with the nonprofit met with hundreds of evacuees at Orlando International Airport's disaster relief center to offer free primary and secondary medical services to the uninsured.
"It's chaotic, it's emotional, it's heartbreaking," Stahlman said. "It's as simple as a child coming off and saying that they hadn't had insulin, and they need a prescription. Where do they get that? We can supply that at Shepherd's Hope, but then where do they go to get it filled? And where is their insurance to cover the cost of the prescription? So it gets very complicated, very quickly for something as simple as getting your diabetes treated."
Officials expect 100,000 Puerto Ricans to come to the Sunshine State until the island recovers from the storm.
Stahlman told News 6 that Shepherd's Hope has already hit its budget capacity for the end of the year, because of the huge influx of evacuees from Puerto Rico, and needs volunteers and fundraising support.
"We need bilingual providers, we need volunteers at our clinics to be able to come in and help offset this capactiy, because our hospital partners are going to take the hit in the emergency department and we know that's the most expensive place to get care. And to go to the emergency room for a prescription, might not be the best option," Stahlman said.
The organizations are helping to connect every uninsured patient with navigators to enroll in a healthcare plan before the Dec.15 deadline.
"It's really important for the community to understand the impact that's about to occur, or has started to occur here, and how these residents from the island may have been evacuees, but they're going to become residents here in the Central Florida community," Stahlman said.