Elder Relief: Supplies for Puerto Rico’s Most Vulnerable

Commitment by Afya Foundation

In 2018, Afya Foundation committed to address the urgent medical needs of elders in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. The hurricane has compromised access to care for those in rural areas, particularly the sick and elderly. To address this issue, Afya Foundation will partner with Puerto Rican social agency Acción Social to develop a long-term program to support elders on the island. After conducting needs assessments, Afya will ship three 40-foot containers of needed medical supplies and equipment to Puerto Rico to support Acción Social's 22 Elder Care centers, which serve patients across 76 municipalities. Additional supplies will be kept in five storage hubs throughout the island to allow Acción Social's care workers to replenish their supplies moving forward. Additionally, Afya will provide training and capacity building to Acción Social's staff to strengthen their existing elder care work. This commitment will positively impact the care and quality of life of 1,200 elders on the island.



Elder Relief: Supplies for Puerto Rico’s Most Vulnerable



Est. Duration

1 Year

Estimated Total Value



Latin America & Caribbean



Commitment by

Afya Foundation

Partner(s) of the Commitment Maker(s)

Acción Social De PR; Russell Berrie Foundation; Elderly Task Force; Corporacion de Servicios Medicos Primarios y Preventativos de Hatillo

Afya is committing to address these trying circumstances, focusing particularly on affected elders living in rural areas of Puerto Rico. Through this commitment, Afya will mobilize and deliver needed elder care supplies to Puerto Rican social agency Acción Social, and support them in storing and delivering these supplies. Afya will further train Acción Social staff in elder care best practices. Working with representatives from Acción Social and the Department of Justice on the ground in Puerto Rico, two senior Afya personnel will conduct site visits, needs assessments, and training sessions. Container shipments will be sponsored by the Russ Berrie Foundation, a Jewish philanthropic organization based in Teaneck, New Jersey. These needs assessments will ensure that shipments contain only those materials that are both essential for recovery, and cannot be procured locally. During these site visits, Afya's founder, a tenured occupational therapist with a geriatric specialization, will lead trainings for Acción Social's aid workers, equipping them with strategies to enhance elder comfort and ameliorate issues with muscle and bone breakdown, and to ensure that the donated supplies (such as canes) are used correctly. These trainings will also focus on improving communication strategies between workers and elder patients, and on building the self-reliance of patients, ensuring that elders will experience enhanced quality of life long-term. In the next phase of the commitment, Afya will ship three 40-foot containers of the supplies to a public school in Carolina, Puerto Rico, where teams from Acción Social will transport the items to five other public schools in Ponce, Florida, Cabo Rojo, Rio Grande, and Caguas. From these schools, staff from Acción Social's 22 Elder Care Centers will distribute the supplies to 76 municipalities, storing remaining items at the public schools for the long-term, allowing care workers to refresh their supplies periodically. Afya will draw upon its extensive experience in disaster relief when building shipments and assessing community needs. Acción Social, as a tenured social service group, will target its clients and affiliates island wide to ensure that no community is left uncared for.

Afya will deliver one 40-foot container each month from May to July 2018 (three containers), sponsored by the Russ Berrie Foundation, a Jewish philanthropic organization based in Teaneck, NJ. Within each container will be consumable medical supplies and other materials specifically requested by clinicians on site. After gauging the success of the project in the subsequent months, Afya and Acción Social will strategize a plan for upcoming years.


Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017, causing significant damage to the island's health sector and leaving rural communities without access to basic necessities such as water and electricity. This heavily compromised the ability of clinics and care centers to adequately provide for sick and elderly patients. The death toll in Puerto Rico since Maria, while officially recorded at 64, is estimated to actually be more than 1,000 - as more people died daily in 2017 than in previous years (NYT). Many of these deaths were bedridden patients whose caretakers could not physically reach them, while others had been relying on lifesaving machines like respirators that were suddenly without power. Several others, immobile and now without a reliable means of communication, were confined to their homes and had no way to call for help. While supplies had reached the island, they were held up often in ports and sat under-utilized in containers as there was little infrastructure to organize their transport and diesel was scarce. As an organization, the Afya Foundation has been approached by organizations seeking items including (but not limited to) wheelchairs, canes, beds, crutches, oxygen tanks, catheters, diapers, and medications for patients in Puerto Rico.

Partnership Opportunities

Afya is searching for financial support to support transport and oversight costs. As well, Afya is interested in media support to break into the conversation of new communities. Afya has been covered extensively in Puerto Rican media, as well as in local media affiliated with our donors, but they would like to bolster their media presence in more nationally syndicated sources. With new, more diverse media representation, Afya can identify new partners from different backgrounds, so as to act with malleability and inclusivity in its relief work. Afya can serve as an implementation partner for agencies looking to provide resources and support to Puerto Rico. Additionally, Afya’s close relationship with reporters at nationally syndicated news sources like the New York Times and CNN, as well as its extensive online media presence, can provide support and recognition to partners. As a tenured aid and health organization, Afya can provide best practices to partners and provide pointers on best practices for supply collection, delivery, and distribution.

Progress Reports

December 2018

Afya coordinated and mobilized non-profits, governmental leaders, universities, health care organizations, businesses, personal donors and foundation partners; creating a coalition which enables us to continue to meet healthcare supply requests in real time. Each successful delivery is the championed effort of a community committed to Afya’s mission to provide recovery and capacity building support to older adults and the medically frail in Puerto Rico.

Following needs assessments, clinical and care giver interviews in early 2018, Afya initiated geriatric training, trauma and resilience education along with psychosocial support for 100 healthcare workers supporting older adults throughout Puerto Rico. This group included: nursing aides, nurses, psychologists, social workers, family members and community leaders. Beginning in July 2018, 100,000 lbs. of medical supplies were delivered and distributed to older adults and the medically frail in over 1000 households; with a focus on delivery to rural and hard-to-reach areas. As a result of providing medical supplies and psychosocial support, Afya is extending the social safety net for older adults and the medically frail while engendering agency for their caretakers.