Tag Archive: Blue Cross Rate Increases


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In just under seven minutes, 17 people were killed and 15 others wounded in Parkland, Florida in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. The massacre at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County started as students anxiously waited for the end of the school day. The shooter, 19 year old Nicholas Cruz, was a former student at the school who had been kicked out of school several times for bringing weapons to school and finally expelled last year for fighting.
Cruz entered the school armed with an AR15 rifle and pulled the fire alarm at 2:21pm, confusing many students and faculty because they had already had a fire drill earlier that morning. Police said the 19-year-old also had multiple magazines, smoke grenades and a gas mask. As students began to leave the building because of the fire alarm, Cruz begins shooting into rooms 1215, 1216 and 1214. Hearing the gunshots, students and teachers run back into the classrooms. Some of them had enough time to lock the doors and hide in closets while others were not as lucky.
Many students and faculty were still in the hallways, confused as to where the shooter was while many brave staff ushered stragglers into classrooms or away from the shooter. Cruz returned to rooms 1216, 1215 and 1213, firing into them again. He then took the west stairwell to the second floor and shot a person in room 1234. Three minutes into the shooting, Cruz headed to the third floor of Building 12 and tried to bust out a window on the third floor to shoot at students as they fled the building. The windows in that part of the building are shatterproof so he was unsuccessful. A little after 2:27pm, Cruz discarded his rifle and ammunition and fled the school blending in with students fleeing the building. He was apprehended at 3:41pm after an officer spotted him walking down a street.
In those terrifying minutes, many lives were lost, families shattered and an entire school was traumatized. The victims killed in the horrific shooting have been identified as Scott Beigel 35; Peter Wang, 15; Carmen Schentrup, 16; Alex Schachter, 14; Helena Ramsay, 17; Meadow Pollack, 18; Alaina Petty, 14; Joaquin Oliver, 17; Gina Montalto, 14; Cara Loughran, 14; Luke Hoyer, 15; Christopher Hixon, 49; Jaime Guttenberg, 14; Aaron Feis, 37; Nicholas Dworet, 17; Martin Duque Anguiano, 14 and Alyssa Alhadeff, 14.
There were many heroes during those terrifying minutes that saved countless lives by helping get others out of the line of fire. Peter Wang, a student and active member of the ROTC program, was last seen alive holding the door open for students who were fleeing the shooter. Colton Haab, another ROTC member, ushered over 60 people into a room. He grabbed Kevlar sheets he and others used for the marksmanship program to shield the students from gunfire. Fifteen year old Anthony Borges helped 20 of his classmates scramble into a classroom as the shooter headed their way and was shot five times as he was locking the door. Borges, is currently in stable condition after hours of surgery with more surgeries to come and a long road to recovery.
Scott Beigel was a geography teacher who unlocked his classroom door to usher a group of students to safety only to be shot and killed while trying to relock the door. Aaron Feis, a popular football coach and school security guard was killed while shielding several students from the shooter’s gunfire.
An unidentified janitor redirected a mass of students who were unknowingly running toward the shooter to another hallway and into the culinary room. Ashley Kurth, a 34-year-old culinary teacher, spotted the mass of terrified children running as she went to lock her door. She ushered the students and two faculty members (including the janitor) into her classroom and locked the door, saving 65 people. Teacher Melissa Falkowski locked her door and hid 19 students in the classroom closet. Countless other faculty and students, remembering their training from drills for active shooter situations, bravely helped save lives yet they are devastated to have lost so many lives.

 

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On February 11, 2018, a Russian commercial plane crashed near Moscow, killing all 71 people on board. Among the victims of the crash were 65 passengers including 3 children and 6 crew members. The cause of the crash is unknown. The Saratov Airlines flight 703, crashed shortly after take-off from Moscow’s Domodedovo airport. The plane was headed to the city of Orsk on the Kazakhstan border and officials have said most of the passengers were from the eastern part of the Orenburg region which is on the southern end of the Ural Mountains.
Officials say the aircraft’s speed and altitude started to fluctuate soon after take-off. A preliminary analysis of the on-board flight recorder indicated the plane had problems two-and-a-half minutes after it took off, at an altitude of around 4,265ft. Moments before the crash, Flight 703 had gained an altitude of 5,900 feet. The 7 year old passenger jet then went into a steep decent until it disappeared from the radar at an altitude of around 3,000 feet.
The Russian Interstate Aviation Committee is investigating the crash. They said that faulty instruments could have given the pilots wrong speed data. The instruments began displaying different speed readings, probably because of iced speed sensors while their heating systems were shut off, the committee said. When the crew detected the issue, they switched off the plane’s autopilot. They eventually took the plane into a dive at 30-35 degrees.
Witnesses say the plane, an Antonov An-148 aircraft, was in flames as it fell from the sky. The crash was caught by a surveillance camera in a nearby house. The footage showed that the aircraft slammed into the ground and immediately burst into flames. The plane crashed near the village of Argunovo, about 50 miles south-east of Moscow. Wreckage and body parts are strewn over a large area of about 74 acres. More than 1,400 body parts and hundreds of plane fragments have been recovered from the crash site.

 
Rescue workers reached the site 2.5 hours after the crash. More than 700 people are involved in the search operation, struggling through deep snow. The emergencies ministry is collecting DNA samples from victims’ relatives as part of the identification process of the 65 passengers and 6 crew members. The wreckage of Flight 703 was scattered over a half mile wide area.
News outlets have reported that the pilot had declined to have the aircraft de-iced before the departure even though the weather at the time of departure included snow showers and −5°C temperature at Domodedovo Airport. The procedure is optional and the crew’s decision is based mainly on the weather conditions.

 

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Disturbing details have come to light in the scandal surrounding USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar, who has been accused by 265 women and girls of sexual abuse dating as far back as 1992. When the FBI began its investigation of Nassar in July 2015, no effort was made by USA Gymnastics officials to warn other potential victims of Nassar. At least 40 of the victims were abused after the FBI began its investigation. Many of his victims were sexually abused under the pretense of providing medical treatment but he has also been accused of molesting children of family friends.
Nassar was the USA Gymnastics national team doctor and an osteopathic physician at Michigan State University. For 15 years, he worked at the Karolyi Ranch, a gymnastics camp facility and the main training center for the United States women’s national gymnastics team. USA Gymnastics said that its executives first learned of “athlete concerns” regarding Nassar in June 2015. Following a five week investigation, he was fired and reported to the FBI in July 2015. They quietly cut ties with Nassar in July 2015, leaving him to continue to work at Michigan State-treating athletes and children at a university clinic until August 2016. Reports have revealed that USA Gymnastics (USAG) board members were aware of accusations against Nassar well before their initial claim in 2015.
Michigan State had first received a complaint against Nassar in 2014 but an investigation into the complaint found no violation of policy. Under an agreement, Nassar was allowed to continue treating patients under certain agreed upon restrictions but no monitoring was instituted. Michigan State fired him for violation of that agreement on September 20 2016 after another woman filed a complaint of sexual abuse.
In November 2016, Nassar was indicted on state charges of sexual assault of a child from 1998 to 2005. He was charged with 22 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with minors. Nassar was finally arrested by the FBI in December 2016 after agents found more than 37,000 images of child pornography and a video of Nassar molesting underage girls. On December 7, 2017, Nassar was sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for possession of child pornography. On January 24th 2017, in Ingham County Circuit Court, he was sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison for the sexual assault of minors. On February 5, 2018 Eaton County Circuit Judge Janice Cunningham sentenced Nassar to 40 to 125 years in prison for the three counts of criminal sexual assault.
Since the scandal broke, all 18 members of the USAG Board of Directors has resigned amid accusations of negligence. In response to the scandal, USAG adopted reforms based on a June 2017 report by an investigator hired to review the organization’s policies and practices. One of the changes is a requirement that all USAG members report any suspected sexual misconduct to appropriate authorities and the US Center for SafeSport.

 

 

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The Department of Defense has revealed a new strategy for American nuclear policy focused on building up smaller nuclear weapons that are easier to use. The Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is an effort to “look reality in the eye,” said Defense Secretary James Mattis, and “see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.” The new strategy involves spending at least $1.2 trillion to upgrade the United States’ nuclear arsenal, including developing a new nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile. The policy update calls for the introduction of “low-yield nukes” on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and the resumption of the nuclear-submarine-launched cruise missile (SLC-M) whose production stopped during the George W. Bush era and which Obama removed from the nuclear arsenal.
The “low yield” bombs the NPR focuses on can do damage similar to that of the U.S. nuclear strikes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The two bombings killed 140,000 people in the initial blast, most of whom were civilians. Thousands more died from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries in the two to four months following the bombings. The bombings remain the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare because of the devastating effects.
Russia, the only country whose nuclear arsenal rivals the United States’ stockpile, already has a large arsenal of weapons this size. U.S. and Russian strategies of nuclear development have differed, with the US favoring larger, longer-lasting weapons and Russia focusing on constantly updating a collection of smaller, more mobile bombs.
The new low-yield nukes are intended to answer any potential overseas attack by Russia. The Pentagon worries that Putin’s army could take control of a U.S. ally and detonate a small nuclear weapon to prevent U.S. troops from responding. Low-yield nukes would provide a proportionate method of response, forestalling a larger nuclear conflict or one with weaker weapons.
Anti-nuclear advocates have accused the Pentagon of lowering the bar for nuclear warfare. The new policy “calls for more usable nuclear weapons with low yields, and for their first use in response to cyber and conventional strikes on civilian infrastructure such as financial, transportation, energy and communications networks,” said Bruce Blair, co-founder of the anti-nuclear-weapons group Global Zero. “It makes nuclear war more likely, not less.” The new nuclear policy has alarmed arms control experts around the globe and been openly criticized by Iran, Russia and China.

 

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A new study finds that roughly half of all U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan don’t get the mental healthcare they need. According to the congressionally mandated report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, while many veterans receive good mental health care through the VA, it’s inconsistent across the system. The report recommends changes to improve the care offered by the Veterans Affairs health system.
Roughly half of those veterans surveyed who showed a need for mental health care said they do not currently receive any such care, either through VA or private physicians. That group includes many veterans with prior diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression or related challenges.
The assessment, which was ordered by Congress in 2013 found that veterans who seek help for post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, depression and other mental health conditions are unable to find treatment because of the VA’s bureaucracy or staffing shortages at clinics and hospitals. The report shows that other factors such as lack of social support, distance and fear of revealing a mental health issue may discourage veterans from seeking care at all.
According to the report, the majority of those who could use these services don’t know whether they are eligible, don’t know how to get the services and don’t even know that the VA provides mental health care while others- frustrated with red tape or long waits-stop pursuing care. The study found that those who do get care encounter “tremendous mental health care expertise” and that the system can deliver care in a “truly integrated and strategic manner.” But the report added that chronic staffing challenges and confusing procedures and policies continue to be a challenge. Researchers said more work needs to be done to improve outreach to veterans in need and public awareness of resources available.
Veterans are often confused as to how to get benefits, unsure of eligibility or frustrated by the red tape and long waits. The VA has had consistent problems with providing care for the more than 4 million service members who have left active duty since the start of the 16 year war in Afghanistan. The report shows that many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan often did multiple tours, served longer deployments and had less time at home compared with earlier conflicts.
In 2014, the stresses of such deployments became hard to ignore when the suicide rate among veterans rose 22% higher than those who had not served in the military. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported about 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide each day. An estimated 265,000 service members transition out each year, adding to the pool of veterans who may need mental health care.
The report recommends that the VA develop a plan to deliver quality mental health care throughout its system in three to five years. On Jan. 9th, an executive order was signed, giving military and VA officials 60 days to develop a plan to give people leaving military service seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention in the year following their service. Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin has pledged to seek major reform of the VA.

 

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing recently on the series of bizarre, unexplained health problems suffered by U.S. diplomats in Cuba. Officials originally said the health problems were caused by a likely “sonic attack” however a new FBI report says there’s no evidence of sonic waves being used in an attack in Havana. At the Senate committee hearing, officials suggested the unexplained health problems might have been caused by an intentionally deployed virus. The Cuban government has denied any involvement in the alleged attack and says it’s helping to investigate the incidents.

U.S. experts are still investigation what was behind the mysterious illnesses that began occurring in late 2016.  They have seen no evidence it was an episode of mass hysteria among the 24 affected U.S. personnel and family members, a senior State Department medical officer told a Senate hearing.  State Department officials testified that it was “incomprehensible” Cuba’s Communist government would not have been aware of what happened or who was responsible, though they stopped short of assigning direct blame to Havana.

Todd Brown, diplomatic security assistant director at the State Department, said that as well as the possibility of an acoustic or sonic attack, U.S investigators were considering whether people might have been deliberately exposed to a virus but he did not offer details or evidence of that.  “I do know other type of attacks are being considered in a connection with this,” he said. “There’s viral, there is ultrasound, there’s a range of things that the technical experts are looking at.”

Some experts have argued that an acoustic attack seems implausible, given that it likely would have caused an extremely loud noise in the area, which was not the case.  Lawmakers asked whether rogue elements of the Cuban government or security services or a third party such as Russia might have been involved. The State Department officials said they could not address or speculate on such matters in a public hearing.

The United States pulled out more than half of its personnel out of Havana in September and U.S. officials say the government will not send staff back to the U.S. Embassy in Havana yet.  Canada has said several Canadians reported symptoms similar to the U.S. diplomats but it has not publicly ordered any evacuation of embassy staff in Havana.  Symptoms suffered by the diplomats have included hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with “mild traumatic brain injury,” said Charles Rosenfarb, director of the State Department’s Bureau of Medical Services.

Medical testing revealed that both the US and Canadian embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts in the brain.  These regions act like information highways between brain cells letting different parts of the brain communicate.   Doctors still don’t know how victims ended up with the white matter changes, nor how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms.

 

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Cartersville, Georgia police are facing criticism after arresting 70 people at a house party in an Atlanta suburb after no one would claim ownership of a stash of marijuana that totaled less than an ounce.  Partygoers say police entered the home without permission or a warrant, and arrested everyone inside when they couldn’t determine the owner of the less than an ounce of marijuana they seized.

Cartersville police responded to a “shots fired” call around 2:18 AM on New Year’s Eve at the Morgan Square apartments on Cain Drive.  Someone from the apartment complex called 911 to report the noise from the party, drawing police to the site of the party, just blocks from the apartment complex.  Partygoers allege that the sounds were fireworks, not gunfire and that while police were checking things out-they smelled marijuana in the front yard.  They say police didn’t have a warrant at that point but they said two officers entered the home anyway.

Deja Heard had rented the home where the party was held through Air BnB to celebrate her 21st birthday by having a “Christmas Lingerie Party”.  Flyers for the party said “Party Alert. East Atlanta Santa’s 21st Sexy Christmas Lingerie Pajama Party” and advertised a cover for drinks, Jell-O shots, “drunk/strip Twister” and beer pong.

Those arrested ranged in age from 15 to 31 years old and some remained in jail 2 days after the arrest- causing them to lose their jobs.  Jail records showed that 63 of the 70 arrestees had all been processed with a single count of marijuana possession under one ounce.  Some parents of those arrested have cried foul at the arrests, claiming that if the incident happened in Atlanta, the attendees would’ve walked away with a $75 ticket.

Several of those arrested, now called “the Cartersville 70” on social media, have given interviews to local media outlets saying they fear they will have a criminal record.  Austen Davis told a reporter “I was told we were just being detained; one of the officers said we’re putting you in a van to keep y’all warm.”   Others say they were verbally abused during their arrest.  Along with the attorneys representing the young people arrested, the NAACP is now involved.

The Georgia chapter of the NAACP said most of the drug charges should be dropped because officers didn’t have the right to search the home.  “We believe, based on what we know from the police report and independent witnesses and video, that there was a violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights,” The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of property.  The NAACP contends that the house and those attending the party were unlawfully searched and that citations could have been issued, rather than arresting the party-goers.

In a news release, police said they obtained a warrant and found two stolen guns, marijuana individually packaged and several smoking devices throughout most of the first-floor rooms. Individually packaged suspected cocaine and cocaine-related paraphernalia were also located upon initial contact with multiple subjects, the release said.  According to Cartersville Police Lt. M.E. Betttikofer, the police investigation is presently ongoing.

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Two men have been arrested in the grisly murders of a same-sex couple and two children in Troy, New York.  James White, 38, and Justin Mann, 24 have been charged with one count of first-degree murder and four counts of second-degree murder.  The victims were 36-year-old Shanta Myers, her partner 22-year-old Brandi Mell and Myers’ two children, Jeremiah, 11, and Shanise, five.  Myers’ oldest son, 15-year-old Isaiah, was not home at the time of the murders.

Their bodies were discovered in their basement apartment around noon on Dec. 26th by the property manager while doing a well-being check.  According to family members, the Myers family moved in with Brandi Mells following an eviction earlier this year but because of apartment’s small size, Isaiah stayed with a relative.

Mells’ cousin, Sharonda Bennett said she last spoke to Brandi on Dec. 19 to discussed holiday plans  The couple were deciding between celebrating in Troy or in Paterson, New Jersey, where the Mells family lives, she said.  She said that the couple became unreachable around 11 p.m. on Dec. 21st, after Mell’s mother couldn’t reach her by phone and no one answered at the apartment.   Bennett said her calls to Brandi went straight to voicemail and she assumed maybe they had decided to spend Christmas in New Jersey.

Two days later, Isaiah stopped by to deliver Christmas presents to his siblings but no one answered the door, which was locked.   He left for a basketball tournament, thinking they’d stepped out for a bit.  After still not being able to reach them the day after Christmas, Mells’ mom called the property manager and asked the manager to see if her daughter was home.  The manager found the bodies and immediately called cops.

The motives of these murders have not been revealed but Troy Police Chief James Tedesco said these victims were targeted and confirmed that the victims were killed late in the evening of Dec 21st.  He called the slayings the worst “savagery” he’d ever seen in his 42-year career.  Police did not detail how they caught the suspects, and a family member of one of the victims said that she had never heard of the men and knew no reason why the women and children would be targeted.

Police have said Justin Mann was “acquainted” with Brandi Mells.  He said that both suspects have a criminal history and that Justin Mann was on parole.   Department of Corrections records show Mann was released on parole in June 2017 after serving time for a first-degree robbery conviction in 2014. Both men, from nearby Schenectady, were apprehended without incident Friday night and arraigned Saturday.   Both are being held without bail in the Rensselaer County Jail with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Jan. 4th.

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Twelve people were killed and four critically injured, after a fire broke out in an apartment building in the Bronx borough of New York City.  Dozens of other victims were rescued with injuries but were expected to recover.  The fast moving fire sent residents running into the freezing temperatures for safety just before 7pm on Thursday.

The fire was started by a three year old boy who had been playing with the burners on the stove in a first floor apartment.  The boy’s screams alerted his mother that a fire had erupted.  The mother fled the burning apartment with the boy and his 2-year-old sibling, leaving the apartment door open.  That fatal mistake allowed the fire to spread quickly through the 5 story building-trapping families on the floors above.

FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said the apartment’s stairway acted “like a chimney” as the fire burst from the apartment, feeding the flames and allowing them to spread throughout the building.  The smoke from the fire filled the stairway and halls, quickly cutting off visibility to those trapped inside.  The 26-unit apartment building was required to have self-closing doors, which swing shut on their own to keep fires from spreading, city Housing Preservation and Development Department spokesman Matthew Creegan said.  Investigators will look at whether the door to the apartment was defective or if an obstruction prevented it from closing, he said.

Killed in the blaze were Maria Batiz, 58; her 8 -month-old grand-daughter Amora Batiz; Gabriel Yaw Sarkookie, 48; Justice Opoku, 54; Solomon Donkor, 49; William Donkor; Hannah Donkor, 17; Shantay Young, 19; Karen Francis, 37; Kylie Francis, 2; Charmela Francis, 7 and Emmanuel Mensah, 28.  Mensah, has been hailed a hero for heading back into the fire to save others.  Private Mensah, had been home from Army duty for the holiday after finishing basic training in Georgia.   His father said he had been awarded a medal for marksmanship and was planning to join the military police.  He was scheduled to head to Virginia and from there to battlefields unknown.  His sister wept as she said he always put others before himself.

Mensah, lived in Apartment 11, on the 3rd floor with a friend of his father’s who was at home with his wife and four children when the fire broke out.  After Mensah got that family to safety, he returned and pulled out four more people.  He was last seen heading back into the fire to help others.  When he couldn’t be found, family members said they were hoping he was among those injured in the fire.  His remains were found in Apartment 15 on the 4th floor.

One family, the Stewarts, lost four family members during the deadly blaze.  Karen Stewart-Francis, Kylie Francis, Charmela Francis, and their cousin Shawntay Young were killed.  In all, 13 family members — cousins, uncles, aunts – all lived in the building after emigrating from Jamaica between 1980-2004 and deciding to stay close.  Another family member, Holt Francis, emerged alive from the deadly mix of smoke and flames, but was put into a medically induced coma with a dire prognosis.  Family members say he’s a fighter and the family wasn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. His wife Karen was killed in the blaze.

 

 

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Facing mounting evidence that Puerto Rico has vastly under-counted the number of people who died because of Hurricane Maria, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered that every death on the island since the devastating storm be reviewed.  Officials will look review all deaths attributed to natural causes after the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 20 and knocked out power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans and to their hospitals and clinics.

Roselló made the order to the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, which is the island’s vital statistics bureau, and to the Department of Public Safety following the investigative media reports on the death toll and after residents claiming deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria.  The governor also said he’d create an expert panel to review the island’s death certification process.

The Puerto Rican government has put the official death toll at 64 but several investigations have revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died.   The prolonged blackout hampered critical medical treatment for some of the island’s most vulnerable patients, including many who were bedridden or dependent on dialysis or respirators. But if they died as a result, the storm’s role in their deaths may have gone officially unrecorded.

Several news organizations, including The New York Times, conducted independent analyses and found that the number of deaths traceable to the storm was far higher than the official count.  The Times’s review, based on daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau, found that 1,052 more people than usual had died across the island in the 42 days after Maria struck. The analysis compared daily figures for 2017 with an average of figures for the corresponding days in 2015 and 2016.

The leading causes of death on the island in September were diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Puerto Rican government data show.  There was a sharp 50 percent spike in the number of recorded deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection that can be tied to delayed medical care or poor living conditions.    Reports emerged of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to refrigerate insulin, evacuated from hospitals that lost emergency power and other problems.

Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, a heart attack might have been brought on by stress from the hurricane, or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets in time to help.

The governor’s announcement comes as the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico reported that nearly three months since the storm, 45 people are still listed as missing and efforts by Puerto Rico’s police to locate them have been minimal or almost nonexistent.    Parts of the island are still without power leaving many to celebrate Christmas in the dark.   The power grid is only operating at 70 percent of capacity and officials say power won’t be fully restored until the end of May.