Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria made a devastating landfall on Puerto Rico, Minnesota medical technology companies with factories on the island are focused on trying to get basic head counts of their workers there.
"Right now, everything is largely about meeting basic human needs," said Shaye Mandle, CEO of the Medical Alley Association, a Minnesota health technology trade group. "It's really bad. Communications are almost nonexistent. What the companies are all focused on now is finding their employees, connecting with their employees and communities, and just trying to get a handle on where people are."
Puerto Rico is home to dozens of life-science and medical-device manufacturing plants that employ thousands, including facilities run by Medtronic, Boston Scientific, and Abbott Laboratories, which have significant operations in Minnesota.
Medical supply companies require sterile environments to make medical supplies, and are closely monitored by regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration office in San Juan.
It's not yet clear how much structural damage was caused by the 155-mile-per-hour winds and as much as 20 inches of rain from Maria on Sept. 20. At least 10 deaths have been blamed on the storm so far, and the power grid on the island may be inoperable for months in many places.
Medtronic has factories in the Puerto Rican municipalities of Humacao, Juncos, Ponce and Villalba. The factories churn out all manner of products. All four of Medtronic's main product divisions make devices on the island.
Spokesman Fernando Vivanco said Medtronic is in the process of making contact with its employees on the island. With even basic communications systems difficult or impossible to use, the company has used radio bulletins to reach out to workers and asked employees to send information on colleagues who haven't been in touch yet.
"Our employees are our primary concern and we are certainly looking out for them," Vivanco said Monday. "It's not just our employees, but the communities that our facilities are in that are important. You see the images on TV ... there is a lot of destruction that has taken place."
Vivanco said the four facilities have varying levels of wind and water damage that is still being assessed.
"Our ability to fully restore operations is also dependent on other factors, including power supply on the island, functionality of communication channels, road conditions, and other factors, but we are working around the clock to restore full operations as soon as possible," Medtronic said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for Boston Scientific, meanwhile, said the company was fortunate that its facilities on the island sustained only "minimal damage," and the company might resume some operations there in the coming week.
"As of today, we have been able to contact more than 50 percent of our employees on the island, who have reported that they and their families are safe," spokeswoman Kelly Leadem said via e-mail Monday. "Some have suffered extensive damage to their homes, and are staying with family or are being supported through relief agencies."
Medtronic and Boston Scientific both said they had provided hundreds of small power generators to employees and stepped-up charitable giving for storm relief.
Abbott, which acquired Minnesota med-tech company St. Jude Medical and its Puerto Rico operations in January, provided no new information Monday.
According to company commentary compiled by Wells Fargo Securities analyst Lawrence Biegelsen, Abbott confirmed on Friday that it had sustained damage to one of its plants, which the company believes it can manage. In most cases, the affected products are made in other regions, and the company also worked to build up inventory and move it off the island in advance of the recent storms.
FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement Friday that the agency may provide help through its Public Health Service Commissioned Corps as well as through its civilian volunteers supporting the efforts of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
He noted that FEMA was already in the process of responding to the consequences of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which affected scores of food and medical-product companies in Houston and Florida, when Maria hit.
"Thankfully, to date no critical shortages have been identified in areas impacted by Harvey and Irma," Gottlieb's statement said. "The FDA is currently working closely with pharmaceutical and device companies with manufacturing sites in Puerto Rico to prevent shortages of medically necessary drugs and devices."
Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779