The Role of InnovaCare in Helping Puerto Rico Thrive after Crisis

When true devastation struck the small U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, InnovaCare was there. Hurricane Maria impacted more than 450,000 of their plan members and 2,000 of their employees. MMM a subsidiary of Innovacare, didn’t stand back and watch, they threw themselves into the midst of chaos to provide medical aid and help rebuild communities.  

InnovaCare first entered Puerto Rico when they acquired MMM Healthcare in 2006. MMM stands for Medicare and Much More. At that time, MMM was lagging in terms of technology, efficiency, and financial solvency. Today MMM has grown substantially while managing to maintain a member satisfaction rate of over 90 percent.

Hurricane Maria swept right over Puerto Rico with sustained winds of 150 mph. The island hadn’t seen anything close to this hurricane since 1928. Before hurricane Maria hit, most of Puerto Rico’s residents had electricity, water, and a telephone. However, the storm took those things away replacing them with destruction. There was hardly any communication or power, and roads were left impossible to travel.

Natural disasters bring lasting challenges. The InnovaCare family brought hope. As the storm relentlessly weighed down on the small island, first responders, police officers, firefighters, and healthcare providers remained ready and strong. Afterward, new challenges were left for a community to overcome and MMM was prepared to help them do that—and have continued helping ever since.

InnovaCare/MMM has been there for thousands of people regardless of their insurance status. They successfully reached over 30 towns across Puerto Rico bringing food, water, medical services, and emergency evacuation transport. Caminamos Juntos – “We Walk Together” – is the beautiful name of this campaign to let people know they are not alone.

“If you don’t have your employees, you can’t get your company up on its feet,” Richard Shinto, MD, MBA, president and CEO of InnovaCare Health and MMM Holding. InnovaCare showed how the company values its employees by providing assistance to staff that lost their homes to the hurricane.

Not only that, the healthcare company set up a makeshift grocery store with free food, gave out generators, and set up a laundry mat. They even went to the extent of setting up a barbershop in order to help sustain a sense of normalcy in the midst of chaos. The banking systems were also down making it impossible to use debit cards. So, Innovacare gave out cash to its employees.

In return, the employees of InnovaCare Health certainly rose to the occasion. Even in their own darkest hours, the Innovacare staff was there for their communities. The InnovaCare/MMM team contributed more than 8,000 hours of volunteer time to help those in need.

Within a month of the crisis, Innovacare raised over $4 million for Puerto Rico. This was possible because of a vast number of stakeholders including physicians within the network who in addition to their time also generously donated financially to helping their communities thrive once again.

Through their chronic care clinic, Vita Care, MMM set up free clinical tents providing immediate medical attention as well as follow up support. Innovacare also began running mobile clinics only two weeks after the storm. While at first the clinics were addressing immediate concerns, the services changed overtime to serve longer-term necessities. More than 25,000 residents were cared for by these clinics.

“If they go home and they can’t get that diet or have no place to stay or have no way to get the medication they were prescribed, everything you’ve done in the clinic has been lost,” Shinto said. Their mobile outreach efforts were in hopes to keep situations like this from happening.

Another significant impact Innovacare made on the communities of Puerto Rico and continued to months after the hurricane, was through “Recargate” or “Recharge.” Recharge was set in place as a storefront inside of San Juan’s largest shopping center. Even months after the crisis when many doctors offices regained power, they remained closed. Hospitals were still damaged, and healthcare professionals throughout the island were leaving for the mainland.

Recharge has provided a place for more than 20,000 residents to seek medical care as well as a safe place for emotional care and recreation. Employees at the center provide multiple services from exercise classes to mental health screenings and counseling for those struggling with anxiety, grief, and depression. Recharge also distributed food and even helped visitors apply for social services.

Having simple pleasures like entertainment as well as the opportunity to gather for fun and fellowship is also important for rebuilding a community. Recharge knew this and was able to lay the groundwork for the emotional rebuild of the community in San Juan.  

Looking at the aftermath of the hurricane, the healthcare company’s leaders believe preparation is key when dealing with crisis. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst” is one of the key takeaways Shinto explains he had from hurricane Maria. Much planning was indeed in place with a focus on technology, capital, and culture to weather the storm. However, MMM still must remain strong in the everyday challenges that arise.

MMM is the now the only health care plan in Puerto Rico to receive a 4.5 star-quality rating from CMS. They have successfully overcome challenges and represent a trusted healthcare company throughout the island. The unique experiences Innovacare has faced in Puerto Rico have demanded creativity and innovation from Innovacare employees for the company’s survival.

Puerto Rico has the highest number of people covered by Medicare or Medicaid in the nation. However, health insurers in Puerto Rico including MMM are reimbursed at 40 percent less than what is reimbursed in the United States. Also, despite the high rating of quality MMM has, its doctors are paid about a fifth less than those in the United States. “We have to constantly innovate,” says Orlando Gonzalez, president of MMM. “We have problems not typical of a health insurer.”

No matter the challenges, InnovaCare is proud of their work and hopeful of the rebuild of an even stronger Puerto Rico—“as long as we walk together.”