Puerto Rico's financially strapped government has been hit with a federal court order that demands the island's health department immediately pay long-overdue bills owed to companies that serve mentally disabled people in the U.S. territory.

Judge Gustavo Gelpi said Friday that his order seems to be the only way to protect the rights of a special needs population amid an economic crisis.

Gelpi also called an emergency meeting with top government officials next week. He warned that his court will take additional steps if the situation is not resolved.

The order comes as the U.S. territory's government runs out of money amid a $70 billion public debt load.

Health Department spokeswoman Yaritza Ortiz told The Associated Press that the agency will issue checks next week. She declined further comment.