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By Ken Stone, Times of San Diego, a member of the San Diego Online News Network

Photo:  A Scripps Health medical team. Group president/CEO says San Diego needs “PPE, pharmaceuticals and scarce medical equipment needed in this type of pandemic.” Photo courtesy of Scripps

May 1, 2020 (San Diego) - Executives with Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare, two major San Diego hospital chains, have written to the federal government seeking “urgent action” to combat COVID-19 along the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Scripps Health CEO Chris D. Van Gorder and Donald L. Gross, executive consultant with Sharp HealthCare COVID‐19 Strategic Response, urged Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf to address the “inadequacy of medical resources” in Baja.

“We ask that the Centers for Disease Control, in coordination with Customs and Border Patrol, immediately begin medical checks to protect public health and expedite the free flow of critical goods and essential personnel,” they wrote. “We also request priority status to receive more personal protective equipment (PPE) and pharmaceutical supplies in the San Diego region for both standard care and COVID‐19 care.”

The 630-word letter, obtained Friday by Times of San Diego, said only the U.S. government can take action to protect communities on the Mexican border.

“We also need the federal government to put pressure on Mexico to enforce social‐distancing and shelter‐in‐place policies as we have done in the United States,” said the execs, who noted that Scripps Health and Sharp HealthCare treat more than 60% of the region’s COVID‐19 patients.

Friday afternoon, Van Gorder of Scripps Health said he’d gotten no official response yet.

Van Gorder told Times of San Diego that the hospital chains would like San Diego designated a region for priority support for supplies needed in this type of pandemic.

His worst fears, he said, are a spike or surge in COVID patients in San Diego or Baja (or both) — “forcing U.S. citizens in Mexico and others to seek emergency care in San Diego to the degree it overwhelms our capacity.”

“Scripps and Sharp continue to see COVID cases growing in our hospitals, particularly in Chula Vista, forcing both organizations to transfer patients from the Chula Vista hospitals to sister hospitals further north,” Van Gorder said via email. “Scripps transferred three yesterday. Otherwise the Chula Vista hospitals would be forced to go on ED diversion status forcing ambulance cases to travel to other hospitals in San Diego.”

Before the pandemic, an average of 90,000 people crossed the Tijuana‐San Ysidro border daily, they noted.

When the “nonessential travel” ban took effect March 21, border crossings dropped sharply, the letter said. “However, crossings have increased steadily in recent weeks. On April 26, 2020, border crossings exceeded 42,000. Today, coronavirus cases are increasing at rates exceedingly faster among border communities compared to the rest of San Diego County.”

The execs said a misperception exists that San Diego and Southern California are flattening the curve and supplies and attention can go elsewhere.

“That is not the case,” they said. “Hospital COVID‐19 cases in the southern part of our region continue to rise. Any impression that we are flattening our curve ignores the threat south of the border and the fact that providers in the San Diego region do not have adequate supplies to meet the projections we anticipate as a result of the increasing cases in our border communities.”

The letter said supplies are at critical levels and some supply shipments have been intercepted by FEMA for redistribution.

“We cannot wait for our supplies to be depleted before we get the assistance we need,” they said. “This challenge is acute, and will not be without lasting impacts in our region and across our nation if we do not act now. Public health crises do not respect borders.”

The letter was CC’d to leaders of FEMA, Customs and Border Patrol and the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert R. Redfield. Also contacted were Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the mayors of San Diego and Chula Vista along with the county Board of Supervisors.

Sharp HealthCare didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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