COVID-19 field hospital opens in migrant camp in Matamoros, Mexico

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BROWNSVILLE, Texas (Border Report) — A new 20-bed field hospital just for COVID-19 patients opened Thursday at a tent encampment where hundreds of asylum-seekers live in Matamoros, Mexico.

The tent facility is operated by Global Response Management (GRM), an NGO that offers free medical care to the migrants. After weeks of pleading with Mexican and U.S. authorities, the organization last week was granted permission to cross medical equipment and supplies over the border, Andrea Leiner, a nurse practitioner with GRM told Border Report on Thursday.

Andrea Leiner, a nurse practitioner with Global Response Management, is seen outside the new COVID-19 field hospital opened April 30, 2020, at a tent encampment for asylum seekers in Matamoros, Mexico. (Global Response Management Courtesy Photo)

Leiner said there have been no confirmed cases of coronavirus at the tent encampment, so far, but since mid-March there have been 20 people tested for COVID-19 who exhibited symptoms and all of the tests have been negative. Nevertheless, she said that they now have on-site diagnostic equipment, as well as the ability to intubate critically ill patients, should the need arise.

“If we had a patient with coronavirus today we could treat them,” said Leiner, who is from Naples, Fla., and has worked at the camp since December 2019.

Along with beds, COVID-19 diagnostic machines and protective gear, the facility also is equipped with a portable ventilator that will allow them to stabilize a critically ill patient until they can transport them to a nearby hospital. Leiner says GRM has agreements with a public hospital in Matamoros, which would then take over care of any COVID-19 patient that needs to be on a ventilator long-term.

She added that the facility is only for treating coronavirus because “everything is considered ‘dirty’ in here,” Leiner said.

Designated GRM staff will oversee the field hospital and won’t cross-treat patients at GRM’s medical trailer, which is also located in the camp, she said. The new field hospital is located on the outer edge of the tent encampment and has and its own ventilation system and safety doors to not allow others inside.

The medical trailer set up by Global Response Management at the asylum-seekers camp in Matamoros, Mexico, is seen on Dec. 22, 2019. A new field hospital just for COVID-19 patients is located on the farthest backside of the camp and opened on Thursday, April 30, 2020. (Border Report File Photo/Sandra Sanchez)

Helen Perry, a nurse practitioner from Florida who has headed GRM’s Matamoros project since October, told Border Report a month ago that her organization raised at least $500,000 to construct the tent field hospital.

Read a Border Report story on preparations for the tent hospital.

On Thursday, GRM officials gave a few tours of the facility, showing it off for local leaders prior to any actual patients coming in and contaminating the area. Leiner said staff have N-95 masks, face shields and gowns and all necessary appropriate gear.

A woman helps to put a mask on a child on April 29, 2020, at the Matamoros, Mexico, camp where asylum seekers live. (Courtesy Photo)

Furthermore, a South Texas woman earlier this week donated 1,000 face masks to asylum-seekers living in the camp, which were distributed through Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.

The number of migrants living at the camp has dipped some, now estimated at between 1,000 to 2,000, by volunteer organization, which is down from the 3,000 who lived there prior to the pandemic. This could be, in part, because the Mexican government daily sends buses to the camp offering free rides to migrants to cities on Mexico’s southern border, such as Tapachula. It also is attributed to virtually no migrants being sent to remain in Mexico as part of the Migrant Protection Program since the Southwest border was shut down on March 20 to non-essential travel due to COVID-19. U.S. Border Patrol agents now process migrants in the field and most are rapidly expelled from the United States often on flights back to their countries of origin, Border Patrol agents told Border Report.

Visit BorderReport.com for the latest exclusive stories and breaking news about issues along the United States-Mexico border.

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