Did health care workers’ experiences during and after Hurricane Maria transform their ethics of care?

Preliminary research for this project has documented a strong sense of purpose and community orientation among medical professionals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María. Many doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals went to work immediately after the storm clearing debris, repairing their workplaces, and resolving myriad logistical problems (diesel, water, supplies, medications) in order to deliver care. This case allows us to explore important questions about the formation and pliability of ethics of care, how medical professionals respond in times of disaster, and the transformative potential of disasters. We hypothesize based on our initial research and evidence from the literature on disaster response and ethics of care, that health care workers developed a new ethic of care that draws on pre-existing cultural features, but that is based in a new sense of community, efficacy, and purpose that was forged in the aftermath of the hurricane. We anticipate that this new ethic of care will endure and help to guide care giving and enable a rebuilding of health infrastructure. We propose to test this hypothesis over the coming months by convening online focus groups of previously interviewed health care workers to discuss their orientation towards their work and explore whether they conceive of Hurricane María as a transformative event and if so whether those transformations were permanent or temporary. We are in the process of extending this research to see whether and how COVID-19 has changed and contributed to these new ethics of care, and how these new ethics of care and the experiences that forged them have in turn shaped healthcare workers responses to the pandemic. A first journal article describing our results thus far is forthcoming.

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