As hospitals in Mexico City fill up with Covid-19 patients, the cases of two men sick with the infectious disease show that finding a bed in the capital’s strained healthcare system is becoming increasingly difficult.
Tomás Hernández, a 49-year-old Mexico City resident, was turned away by 12 different hospitals before finally finding a bed, while ambulance paramedics transporting a man from a México state municipality that is part of the capital’s metropolitan area couldn’t find a healthcare facility with availability during a search that lasted more than six hours.
According to a report by the newspaper Milenio, Hernández – who tested positive for Covid-19 a few days ago and quickly became gravely ill and dependent on an oxygen tank to breathe – left his home on Monday night with his two brothers to seek treatment.
Hernández’s family had requested an ambulance but when it failed to arrive they decided that they would have to act themselves.
“The ambulance never came for my brother … [so] we decided to leave in our own car; we never imagined that it would be the beginning of a whole odyssey,” said José Hernández.
Tomás, José and Juan Hernández spent the next 16 hours in their car while they searched for an available hospital bed in neighborhoods all over Mexico City. Tomás has medical insurance with ISSSTE, the State Workers Social Security Institute, but even so was unable to find a bed in its designated Covid hospitals. He was also turned away from Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS) hospitals and private healthcare facilities where there was no space available.
“We had to … [search] the whole night, we haven’t slept in fact,” José told Milenio on Tuesday. “… Whether it’s the private sector [or] the government sector … there’s no space, there are no beds and my brother is getting worse and worse.”
Later on Tuesday, Tomás’ brothers finally found an available bed at the Xoco Hospital in the capital’s Benito Juárez borough but staff there said they could only admit him temporarily while they X-rayed his chest and retested him for Covid-19.
“They saw that his lungs were all black and inflamed and the test came back positive but they told us they couldn’t treat my brother there,” José said.
“… They directed us to the Juan Ramón de la Fuente General Hospital [in the Iztapalapa borough], they gave us a pass and with that they let us in,” he said.
While Tomás was receiving treatment on Wednesday, José said that his brother was in an extremely poor state of health when he finally found a hospital bed.
Ricardo Villanueva, a medical doctor, faced a similar situation with his brother, who is also gravely ill with Covid-19.
According to the newspaper El Universal, Villanueva – kitted out in a protective suit and mask so that he could be by his brother’s side – took a difficult decision at about 5:00 p.m. Tuesday: he paid the paramedics of a private ambulance for their services after they spent more than six hours looking for a hospital with availability in Mexico City.
The ambulance had arrived at the Villanueva home in the México state municipality of Naucalpan on Tuesday morning to collect Ricardo’s brother, whose first name wasn’t disclosed.
The man was first taken to the Central Military Hospital in the Miguel Hidalgo borough where he waited two hours to be attended to. When staff said it could be eight hours before he was assessed and that there was no guarantee he would be offered a bed, a decision was taken to transport him to a provisional healthcare facility set up at the Banamex Convention Center at the Hipódromo de las Américas horse race track. However, Villanueva was also unable to access treatment there.
After waiting outside the facility for some four hours, Ricardo realized that if his brother remained in the ambulance any longer he wouldn’t have enough money to pay the paramedics for their services.
“We also have medication expenses … and we have two other people at home who are receiving treatment [for Covid-19]” he said.
The sick man was placed in a car owned by relatives and Ricardo told El Universal that they would travel to Toluca, the México state capital, if they couldn’t find a hospital with availability in Mexico City.
“It’s possible that we’ll take him there. We’ll rule out other options here but Toluca could be an option,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “… The authorities say there is space [in the health system] but [there’s] nothing. … Today we have a pilgrimage to look for a place where he can be treated.”
Published early Wednesday, the El Universal report didn’t say whether Ricardo was eventually able to find a hospital bed for his brother in Mexico City, Toluca or elsewhere.
According to the Mexico City government, there were 4,732 coronavirus patients in hospitals in the capital at 10:00 p.m. Tuesday including just over 1,000 on ventilators. The number of hospitalized patients is higher than at any other time in the pandemic.
However, Mexico City data shows that almost a third of hospital beds set aside for coronavirus patients in the capital – roughly 2,200 – are, in theory, still available as overall occupancy is 68%. (Occupancy is 84% according to federal data but Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum says that her government’s statistics are more accurate.)
The experience of the Hernández and Villanueva families shows that locating the theoretically available beds is not easy. The federal Health Ministry has advised people with Covid-19 symptoms to call 911 to confirm the availability of hospital beds before seeking treatment to avoid facilities that are already full.
But Ricardo Villanueva said that 911 operators were not able to provide his family with that information.
Hospital occupancy levels are also concerning in several other states. According to federal data, more than 70% of beds set aside for coronavirus patients are in use in México state and more than 60% are occupied in each of Baja California, Guanajuato and Hidalgo.
Meanwhile, the accumulated coronavirus case tally and Covid-19 death toll continue to rise at an alarming pace despite Mexico’s low testing rate.
The former rose to 1,267,202 on Tuesday with 11,228 new cases reported while the latter increased to 115,099 with 801 additional fatalities.