• October 17th, 2021
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COVID-19 Overwhelms Border ICUs


By Heidi de Marco

 

 

Even as most California hospitals have avoided an incapacitating surge in coronavirus patients, some facilities near the Mexican border have been overwhelmed. They include El Centro Regional Medical Center in Imperial County and Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista in San Diego County, which link the spike in COVID-19 patients to their communities’ cross-border lifestyle.

Photo: Heidi de Marco/KHN Nurse Brianna Mendoza wheels a patient with coronavirus symptoms into the triage tent on May 28, 2020.

Some U.S. citizens and legal residents who live in Mexico are crossing the border from Tijuana and Mexicali into the U.S. for treatment. Dr. Juan Tovar, an emergency physician and chief operations executive for Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista, said 48% of COVID-positive patients who visited the emergency room between May 24 and May 30 said they had recently traveled to México. That figure jumped to 60% between May 31 and June 2. The hospital is about 10 miles from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the busiest land border crossing in the Western Hemisphere.

Only about 5% of COVID-19 patients reported they’d recently been to México at Scripps’ three other emergency rooms farther north, he said.

“We are now transferring COVID-19 patients out of Chula Vista to other Scripps hospitals farther north on a fairly regular basis — 21 over the last week — to help decompress our hospital here,” Tovar said.

About two hours east, El Centro Regional Medical Center was so overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients it had to divert some to health care facilities in San Diego, National City and elsewhere. There have been more than 2,025 confirmed cases in Imperial County, which has the highest COVID-19 hospitalization rate in the state, said Andrea Bowers, special projects coordinator for the county health department.

Photo/Foto: Heidi de Marco/KHN Registered nurse Christina Campolongo (left), certified nursing assistant Vanessa Aquino and registered nurse Paloma Garza-Johnson turn a sedated coronavirus patient into the prone position, face down, which may allow more oxygen into the patient’s lungs.

“We know that our community has family on both sides of the border, so we’re relating the uptick to Mother’s Day weekend,” said Suzanne Martínez, assistant chief nursing officer at the medical center. “That means more risk as people travel back and forth over the border.”

“We know that our community has family on both sides of the border…That means more risk as people travel back and forth over the border.”
Suzanne Martínez, Assistant Chief Nursing Officer

KHN’s Heidi de Marco visited the intensive care units at both hospitals and documented the efforts to keep patients alive.

 

Heidi de Marco is a Reporter and Producer for California Healthline. This Kaiser Health News  story first published on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

 

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