SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Dr. Amy Liepert grew up in Wisconsin far from the southern border and where she currently works as a surgeon and as an associate professor of surgery with UC San Diego Medical Center.
Since arriving in San Diego more than two years ago, she has noticed many of her patients are showing up in the emergency room with broken limbs, severe brain trauma, complex compound fractures and tissue damage.
A lot more cases than before.
“We were seeing, clinically, what seemed like a lot more patients than we had seen before and injuries that were more severe,” Liepert said.
The common denominator to all these injuries and even deaths, according to Liepert, is the new border barrier built between 2019 and 2021.
“You’re not getting simple fractures like you might get from falling off the curb or a bike; These are complex injuries,” she said.
Liepert, colleague Dr. Jay Doucet and others at UC San Diego Health, began looking at records and discovered a five-time increase in the number of high-severity injuries occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border wall between San Diego and the El Centro area, about 120 miles to the east.
They attributed the rise in injuries to a height increase of the border wall, which can be as tall as 30 feet in some areas.
The findings were published April 29, 2022 in JAMA Surgery.
“The height increase of the border wall along the San Ysidro and El Centro sectors was touted as making the barrier ‘unclimbable,’ but that has not stopped people from attempting to do so with consequential results,” said Liepert. “This is an unseen public health crisis happening right now and it has significantly affected major local health care providers in San Diego.”
According to the study, UC San Diego Health had 67 cases of trauma-related incidents due to falls at the border wall from 2016 to 2019, with no deaths reported.
The number spiked to 375 between 2019 and 2021, and fatalities also increased to 16.
Liepert told Border Report the study was not politically motivated
“We wanted to educate the public that this is a consequence that we’re facing here at our local health care system that has overloaded our hospital system and trauma services,” she said. “Our concerns are making sure we have enough resources and beds to make sure we care for all our regular community members.”
The findings of the study also show UC San Diego Health spent $13 million to treat the injured who fell while climbing the border barrier.
“These patients are uninsured and that was not attributed to the original cost of the wall, something we need to consider as we continue to see these patients. We need to be able to care for them and pay for their care and we have to look at expanding, we need more therapists, more surgeons and even more hospital beds,” Liepert said.
The study and its authors call the increase in traumatic cases involving the border wall “a crisis.”
“This is a local public health crisis that has worsened trauma center bed capacity, resulting in staff shortages and has taxed our extremely dedicated health care professionals,” said Doucet, division chief of trauma and surgical critical care at UC San Diego Health. “It is also a humanitarian crisis in which people are being severely injured or dying at the border, and because this is happening it is impacting available access to trauma care for San Diegans as well.”