El Centro Regional Medical Center is shown in this undated photo. (Courtesy El Centro Regional Medical Center)

After diverting ambulances elsewhere for a day because of a spike in cases, Imperial County’s hospitals again are accepting COVID-19 patients.

Adolphe Edward, CEO of the El Centro Regional Medical Center, said in a Facebook video that the hospital had 53 COVID-19 patients. That was down from 65 on Tuesday ― a rise that hospital officials attributed to U.S. citizens living in Mexico coming to the county for treatment.

Why this matters

Imperial County has fewer than 300 hospital beds and long-standing community health challenges. Despite those challenges, county officials are working to protect the region’s 181,000 residents as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.

Emergency rooms remained open for walk-ins and to treat patients with other illnesses during the one-day diversion.

Edward said it’s possible COVID-19 patients may be diverted again in the near future depending on caseloads. His hospital continues to see U.S. citizens who live in Mexico seeking treatment, he said.

“The demand for health care goes up and down all the time,” he said. “Yesterday was a real high spike. We reacted the right way.”

Some 40 patients were transferred beginning Tuesday to other regional health care facilities across Southern California, said Chris Herring, the county’s emergency medical services manager. He declined to give a specific breakdown of where the patients were sent, though a Scripps Health spokesperson told inewsource on Tuesday that its San Diego hospitals received at least five patients and were expecting more. UCSD Health also expected to receive Imperial County patients.

Pioneers Memorial Hospital in Brawley reported it had 28 COVID-19 patients on Tuesday when it began diverting ambulances carrying people with the virus.

“While we were on diversion initially Tuesday morning, we were unable to admit our patients that had been in the ER waiting at Pioneers Memorial Hospital when the rooms and staff were arranged accordingly,” spokesperson Karina Lopez said. “Diversion was lifted before end of business day Tuesday. Additionally, all of our patients are currently being accommodated.”

Hospitals in Baja California are at or near capacity, and some are unable to receive new patients. At a news conference Wednesday, Herring said hospitals “don’t have a lot of true data” to quantify the impact of COVID-19 cases among U.S. residents coming from Mexico, though the county is a binational community.

“We have a lot of interaction both northbound and southbound everyday in our regular lives, so I think that is impacting our system,” he said. “I think it’s difficult to quantify and put an actual number to, just given how our community lives.”

An ambulance strike team the state sent Tuesday remains in Imperial County and more patients may be transferred, Herring said. The federal government is providing additional staff for local hospitals — critical care nurses, medical surgical nurses and respiratory nurses — that should begin arriving Wednesday night and stay for at least two weeks.

An 80-bed federal medical station also is expected to be operational within a week at Imperial Valley College, Herring said.

The county has fewer than 300 hospital beds to serve its 181,000 residents. It also has the highest hospitalization rate for coronavirus patients in the state.

As of Tuesday, 902 residents have tested positive, 18 have died and 394 have recovered. More than 6,300 have been tested.


Jennifer Bowman serves as inewsource's Assistant Editor. Before that, she was an investigative reporter focusing on government accountability issues in southern San Diego and Imperial counties. She also used to cover education. She’s happy to be back in her hometown after stints at daily newspapers...