Border families make the best of medical system overrun by COVID-19 crisis

Border Report Correspondents

‘Bring your own medical supplies’ and ‘Take care of them at home’ are some of the things residents are hearing at Juarez medical facilities

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Elizabeth Solis sits on a bench outside Juarez General Hospital with a medical catheter in her purse.

Her father-in-law lies on a bed in the intensive care unit of the facility, and doctors told her to purchase the plastic tubing because they have run out of supplies.

“They need to put him on dialysis … his kidneys are failing,” she said.

Around her, several men, women and couples sit wearing facemasks and wait their turn to be allowed inside to see loved ones. Behind them stands a large poster of Christ with welcoming hands.

Near the hospital’s entrance. a sign posted by the union that represents nurses and aides says, “We are working under protest.” The sign warns about personnel shortages, a shortage of medical supplies, improper care to health workers who fall ill caring for COVID-19 patients and a lack of clean uniforms.

Such is the scene around medical facilities in a border city where families are trying to cope with a health care system overrun by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Solis, a Juarez homemaker, last Tuesday brought her father-in-law, 86, and her 81-year-old mother in law to Juarez General with flu-like symptoms. There, they were diagnosed with COVID-19 but sent home because the hospital was full.

Solis got a prescription for an oxygen tank, which quickly ran out. “I cared for them at my house, but I had complications. Their blood pressure went up a lot. Things were out of my hands then,” she said.

A man stands outside Juarez General Hospital on Friday. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

Solis brought them back to the hospital the next day and waited hours until they were allowed inside. On Friday, she learned that her mother-in-law was again breathing on her own, but her father-in-law had taken a turn for the worse.

She prays he won’t join the list of more than 1,400 residents who have lost their lives to the virus. “It’s all in God’s hands,” she said.

The woman said she suspects her son got the elderly couple sick when he came to visit their home last week. He works for the city’s child welfare agency and his job takes him all over Juarez.

But facts are hard to come by. No contact tracer has called him, and she assumes she’s not infected. Despite living with and caring for the elderly couple, she doesn’t feel sick.

“I take supplements and homeopathic medicines. I’m taking cyanide granules. They are supposed to be good,” she said.

On a nearby bench, Abundio Rocha waited his turn to see his 36-year-old son. Jose Antonio Rocha, an Uber driver, went to the doctor two weeks ago after his diabetes flared up.

Abundio Rocha is the father of an Uber driver who got infected with COVID-19 and is fighting for his life inside a Juarez hospital. (Julian Resendiz/Border Report)

“He told me he didn’t have the virus when he first came here. We don’t know if he caught it (at work) or if he became infected here (at the hospital),” Rocha said.

Juarez health workers have held protests in recent weeks alleging hospitals are not properly protecting them or non-COVID-19 patients from the virus.

The union that represents health workers in the state alleges that more than 3,200 of them have caught the virus at work and that 36 have died from it.

Border Report and other El Paso news outlets tried to talk to hospital management on Friday but were told that all communication with the press would be handled via statements from Chihuahua state authorities.

Behind the hospital, state officials are setting up tents part of a mobile field hospital to handle patient overflow. Other hospitals around the city are putting cots in hallways and shoehorning multiple beds into every room.

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