Doctors in Southern California are connecting former President Donald Trump’s efforts to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall that “can’t be climbed” with soaring rates of serious injuries and deaths among migrants.
In a research note, seven University of California, San Diego physicians shared new statistics and observations regarding local trauma cases. publishedFriday in the journal JAMA Surgery.
Trump’s orders, a 30-foot wall was built over 400 miles. This often replaced shorter barriers. The doctors focused on admissions to their trauma center after the new wall went up in California’s Imperial and San Diego Counties.
Before the higher barrier was built, “there were 67 fall admissions from the border wall compared with 375 during the after period,” the letter states, explaining that “this increase of more than five times is still significant” when the doctors factor in average apprehensions by U.S. immigration officials.
After the wall was raised, there was also a jump in deaths — from zero to 16.
In @JAMASurgery – The 30 foot US – Mexico border wall was associated with 16 deaths and 5X increase in injuries In San Diego and Imperial Counties after completion in 2019. These patients were treated in trauma centers that had the pandemic. doi:10.1001/jamasurg.2022.1885 pic.twitter.com/jKo2JJB4OE
— UCSD Trauma Burn (@UCSDTrauma) April 29, 2022
“Once you go over 20 feet, and up to 30 feet, the chance of severe injury and death are higher,” Dr. Jay Doucet, chief of the trauma division at UC San Diego Health, told The Washington Post. “We’re seeing injuries we didn’t see before: pelvic fractures, spinal cord injuries, brain injuries, and a lot of open fractures when the bone comes through the skin.”
According to the newspaper:
According to Vishal Bansal (director of trauma), border wall fall victims were 16% of the 230 patients at Scripps Mercy Hospital. This is a higher percentage than stabbing and gunshot cases.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Bansal said in an interview. “This is crazy.” His trauma ward treated 139 border wall patients injured by falls last year, up from 41 in 2020.
Hector Almeida, a Cuban 33-year-old dentist, was sent to UC San Diego Health following fracturing the left leg on Monday. Post that “I never expected we would have to climb the wall.”
According to the paper, “Smugglers led his group to the wall with a ladder and told them to climb up and slide down the other side, said Almeida, who said he saw one woman fall and break both legs, and an older man with a severe head injury.”
I’m glad to see this in the national news. We who work in border-adjacent trauma are very aware of the terrible morbidity, and mortality. #palliativecare. “Border wall fall” is now a common “reason for consult” short-hand. #hapc #palliative https://t.co/Sn7kyFFVub
— Kyle P. Edmonds, MD (he/him) (@kpedmonds) April 29, 2022
The San Diego Union Tribune sharedWhat happened to a Mexican family attempting to flee violence from drug cartels?
On a foggy night in mid-March, several family members from the Mexican state of Michoacán followed smugglers’ instructions to climb the first of two border barriers to reach U.S. soil near San Diego.
One of the women felt her grip slip under the first fence because of the moisture in it. As she approached the second wall, 30 feet above her, she realized that it was impossible to get safely over. Panicked, she called Border Patrol and asked them to wait on the side to help her.
It was only when she reached the Border Patrol station, that she discovered that her 14 year-old daughter, who had been sent by the smugglers along with another group, had fallen 30 feet from the wall.
“It was the worst night of my life,” said the woman, whose daughter remains mostly bedridden after spending a week in the hospital with a fractured skull, neck, and back. “We had come to save our lives, not to risk them in such an awful way.”
— Dr. Reece Jones (@ReeceJonesUH) April 29, 2022
Along with the human consequences, the increase in falls has also had a financial impact. The letter notes that “the increased hospital costs of the surge in admissions exceeded $13 million in 2021 dollars.”
The Covid-19 pandemic that has strained the U.S. health system has coincided with this surge, according to the paper.
The care of these injured immigrants is not only a humanitarian problem but also a public health crisis that further worsened trauma center bed capacity, staff shortages, and professionals’ moral injury. Many of these patients suffered severe brain and facial injuries, or complex fractures of their extremities or spines. Many required intensive care and staged operations. Patients without health insurance were not eligible for rehabilitation or post-discharge therapy, which further prolonged hospital stays.
“This isn’t a fracture you get when you fall off your bike, and you get a cast on it,” Dr. Amy Liepert, medical director of acute care surgery at UC San Diego Medical, told the Union-Tribune. “These are bones broken in multiple pieces that need to be pinned back together, sometimes with external fixation devices.”
The letter says that the Title 42 policy enabling U.S. officials to swiftly expel many migrants like the family from Michoacán “may have increased the numbers and desperation of persons crossing the border away from ports of entry and increased the number of falls.”
Trump implemented Title 42 and Biden plans to continue it. end it next month — though some lawmakers are pushing to extend it with a bill that critics say “ignores individuals and families in desperate need of safety and their right to seek protection from persecution.”
The doctors’ paper asserts that “future border barrier policy decisions should include assessment of the impact of increased injuries on the local healthcare systems as well as humanitarian consequences.”
Jules Kramer from the Minority Humanitarian Foundation in San Diego, which has cared for migrants injured, addressed the media about the remaining sections of Trump’s wall. Post that “it’s absolutely tragic, and it’s not deterring anyone — it’s only harming people.”