A mere 6 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center and its physician leaders maintain a close relationship with civic and health care leaders in Baja California.
Dr. Andres Smith, medical director of emergency services for Sharp Chula Vista, serves on the Sharp Chula Vista Binational Leadership Council, in addition to his philanthropy work for Sharp Chula Vista. Dr. Smith and his colleagues in the Emergency Department recently received Sharp HealthCare Foundation's Donald N. Sharp Medal of Honor for their contributions to philanthropic campaigns, including Above and Beyond — the campaign to build a next-generation hospital for the South Bay.
He was also recently named to a two-year term as president of Cruz Roja de Tijuana, the local delegation of the Mexican Red Cross. It's a homecoming of sorts for Dr. Smith, who began his medical career in Tijuana. He reflects on his binational ties and the role Sharp HealthCare plays in coordinating medical care in a busy binational region.
What is the mission of Cruz Roja de Tijuana?
The mission, simply stated, is to help every human being at risk. Since its beginning in the 1940s, Cruz Roja de Tijuana has grown to include a trauma hospital that sees more than 30,000 patients a year and ambulance services that operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Our volunteers have helped provide emergency services during some of the worst disasters in Tijuana and beyond, including the 1985 Mexico City earthquake and flood in 1993. It also has a training center that covers a nursing school, a paramedic school and an American Heart Association training center.
How does your experience as an ER doctor help you in this role?
It has come full circle because I started my career with Cruz Roja de Tijuana. While I was in college, I drove ambulances as a volunteer EMT. I'll never forget the night a woman was moments away from giving birth. There was no time to drive her to a hospital and no medical equipment, but my partner and I delivered the baby on her floor. When I saw the baby was fine, I realized this is what I was meant to do. It's my honor and privilege to help improve medical care in our binational community.
You are also the medical director of Sharp's Global Patient Services, which works with medical providers in Mexico to evacuate U.S. patients. How is Sharp helping coordinate care between these neighboring countries?
Sharp Global Patient Services (GPS) has strong relationships with doctors, hospitals, clinics, air and ground ambulance companies, cruise lines and travel assistance companies that operate or do business in Mexico. Because of these relationships, our decades of experience and round-the-clock service, we are often one of the first to be called during an emergency medical situation, including trauma, involving a U.S. citizen traveling in Mexico or an expatriate living in Mexico. Sharp GPS makes all the necessary arrangements to get the patient across the border and to a Sharp hospital for treatment.
What do Americans need to know about accessing medical care in Mexico?
Americans need to know that accessing medical care in Mexico is very different than accessing care in the United States. Payment for medical services is often required up front in Mexico, and the cost for treatment is significantly higher at a private hospital compared with a public hospital. You do have the right to choose which kind of hospital you want to go to regardless of where an ambulance or hotel physician may direct you.
There have been many cases reported in the news where foreign patients cannot leave a hospital in Mexico until full payment is made. That's why it's critical to have travel insurance that includes medical and emergency evacuation coverage. Someone with an injury or illness that requires extensive hospitalization or needs to be evacuated to a U.S. hospital by air ambulance, can expect a bill in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Insurance will help cover those costs, but travelers often have to pay out of pocket first and get reimbursed later.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Smith about his work in binational health care for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.