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Scripps, Sharp Seek Federal Help For South County Health Facilities

Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center appears in this undated photo.
Sharp Chula Vista
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center appears in this undated photo.
Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare sent a letter on Tuesday to health and homeland security agencies requesting support to curb and respond to the growth of cases seen along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hospitals in San Diego’s border region are asking federal officials for help as they treat a high volume of the county’s COVID patients. Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare sent a letter on Tuesday to health and homeland security agencies requesting support to curb and respond to the growth of cases seen along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The hospitals are concerned patient volumes in San Diego will increase as Mexico struggles to contain the virus and as people who are not subject to travel restrictions cross the border while infected. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens also live south of the border and come north to access health care.

Scripps, Sharp Seek Federal Help For South County Health Facilities
Listen to this story by Tarryn Mento.

Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder said about half of the hospital system's 73 COVID patients are coming to its Scripps Mercy Hospital Chula Vista.

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“We know something’s going on in South County. We know it has something to do with the border — not completely with the border, but something to do with the border — and so we need action down there,” Van Gorder said.

VIDEO: Hospitals by San Diego’s Border Ask Federal Officials For Help to Combat COVID-19

The Chula Vista site is also seeing 17% of COVID tests come back positive compared to about 6% countywide. A Sharp Health spokesman said its Chula Vista facility is caring for 55 out of its 106 current COVID patients and 20% of tests there are coming back positive. That figure is 12% at Sharp’s other hospitals, spokesman John Cihomsky said in an email on Wednesday.

At least four Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center patients, including two who did not have COVID, were previously diverted to the system’s sister hospital to “lighten the load” but the facility was not at capacity at the time and it has not happened with any additional patients, Cihomsky said.

In the letter, which was reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune, that’s addressed to the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the hospital representatives requested screenings at the border to identify and order quarantine for anyone who may be suspected of having COVID-19.

Scripps Health president and CEO Chris Van Gorder wears a vest that says "incident commander" while standing in the Scripps corporate offices, March 12, 2020.
Tarryn Mento
Scripps Health president and CEO Chris Van Gorder wears a vest that says "incident commander" while standing in the Scripps corporate offices, March 12, 2020.

They also asked for pharmaceuticals and personal protective equipment as they face critical supply levels. The letter signed by Van Gorder and Sharp's executive consultant for COvid-19 response said previous shipments were “intercepted” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and sent elsewhere.

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Sharp’s Cihomsky said the health system had a 35-day supply on hand of its high-grade N95 respirators in universal and regular sizes as well as 30 days of surgeon gloves and gowns. It had isolation gowns and exam gloves to last 48 and 55 days respectively.

At Scripps, Van Gorder said the facility can manage its current patient load but expects that to increase as restrictions on park and beach access are lifted but also as Mexico is overwhelmed with its coronavirus cases.

“Their hospitals are being filled up, they’re running short on supplies and I think it’s a possibility that it could bubble over into San Diego,” Van Gorder said. “I mean, we’re neighbors, we’re close, we’re friends and certainly we have to be ready for that.”

Baja California’s health secretary also on Tuesday asked for humanitarian support from Sharp in the form of doctors and nurses. Cihomsky said the system is working with officials at all levels of government to see what help they can provide.

Van Gorder said federal agencies have not yet responded to the letter from Scripps and Sharp asking for help but he hopes for a coordinated response in the border area. In the letter, they also asked U.S. officials to urge Mexico to implement social distancing and stay-home policies.

Corrected: April 24, 2024 at 12:03 PM PDT
Editor's Note: The video version of this story incorrectly identifies the role of the Sharp representative who co-signed the letter to federal officials. He is not the CEO, he is Sharp’s executive consultant for COVID-19 response.