Mexico's war on drugs is costing American taxpayers big bucks, as the U.S. government is bringing Mexican casualties from the conflict to hospitals north of the border and paying for medical treatment.
According to The Los Angeles Times, El Paso’s Thomason Hospital has treated 28 victims of the Mexican drug war this year, at a cost of about $1 million. The costs are not confined to medical treatment. With the border area becoming a battle zone where drug gangs, seeking to finish the job by pursuing their victims even into hospitals, Thomason has had on occasion been turned into an armed camp.
The Times reported that on three occasions this year, the hospital was placed under maximum security, with local law enforcement providing additional protection for patients, visitors, and employees at the hospital.
Being the only hospital within a 280-mile radius that offers offer state-of-the-art trauma care, Thomason, the Times reported, has become an unwilling treatment center of choice for law enforcement officials and others in the vicinity wounded in Mexico's bloody drug turf battles.
More than 2,000 people have been killed this year, and more than double that number in the 20 months since President Felipe Calderon began deploying 40,000 troops across the country to crack down on narcotics trafficking, the Times recalled.
"We have not accepted these patients. They are brought here. We are mandated by law, federal law, to provide care, a medical assessment and treatment," James Vilenti, Thomason hospital's president and CEO, told KFOX-TV.
Although Valenti said the Mexican government is reimbursing the hospital for most of the patients they send to the U.S., he called on the government for change.
"We need the help of all of our elected official on all levels of the United States to help turn the tide of violence in Mexico and the violence in Juarez. This is a trend that is disturbing. It is a trend that we need to bring attention to so we can get help from federal and local agencies," he said.
El Paso County Sheriff Santiago "Jimmy" Apodaca told the Times he does not like having to pay deputies overtime to guard the hospital when a patient requiring security is brought in. But he has to ensure the safety of El Paso, which was named the second-safest city in the U.S. last year in an independent ranking of cities with more than half a million people. He added that he sees little reason to worry that drug war violence would cross the Rio Grande. But he is taking no chances.
"Bordering on Juarez, the most violent city in Mexico and one of the most violent cities anywhere besides Iraq, you're always vigilant," Apodaca said. "But those people [hit men] down there know who they're after, and they know how to get them."
Valenti, Ron Acton, the hospital’s Board of Managers chairman, and County Commissioner Veronica Escobar have traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, and leaders from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security to discuss the issue of people injured in Mexico crossing the border to receive treatment at the hospital, according to the El Paso Times.
"We've received 24 patients related to the violence and the drug cartel, and this is a disturbing trend," Valenti told the Times. "We received a commitment from Congressman Reyes to explore all options of funding to Thomason to offset these costs."
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