By Greg Niemann
Most people appreciate a comfort zone, even when they travel. They want to feel safe and protected. That’s why they buy automobile insurance when going to Mexico. Many Baja California visitors, however, do not give much thought to a possible physical emergency such as a life-threatening heart attack.
That’s when the familiar Red Cross (Cruz Roja) can be a big help, and many expat volunteers in Baja California work side by side with the locals to assure that assistance is always there.
The Cruz Roja Mexicana functions 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Like the American and Canadian Red Cross, it assists at disasters, but additionally acts as an Emergency Medical Service authorized to act as first responders when people get injured.
The Red Cross is recognized around the world and known as the organization that helps those in need. It began in Switzerland in 1863 when businessman Jean-Henri Dunant inspired a few others and they formed what became the International Committee of the Red Cross. The familiar symbol of a red cross on a white background is the opposite colors of the Swiss flag. It was an easy way to identify medical workers who were on battlefields.
The Red Cross began in the U.S. when former Civil War nurse Clara Barton and a few friends founded the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881.
The humanitarian idea spread around the world and most European countries quickly formed organizations. Spain’s was so successful, they convinced Mexico that they too should have a “Cruz Roja” which Mexico did establish in 1898.
Throughout Mexico the needs of less affluent members of the community who have non-emergency medical problems are generally handled in free clinics, mostly supported by Cruz Roja. The local Cruz Roja Delegations usually request a donation, but what is received seldom cover costs.
Most Cruz Roja Mexicana Delegations are fortunate to have auxiliary volunteer groups generally comprised of locals. However, in many areas that have large expat populations, there is often a group made up of American and Canadian volunteers. They are aware that Cruz Roja provides a safety net for all who live or visit Baja. The quality of life in Mexico, particularly in rural areas, depends on the ability of the Cruz Roja to collect enough money to keep solvent.
The Cruz Roja expat volunteer groups, through various fund-raising activities and membership fees, provide localized assistance and help fulfill the mission of providing humanitarian aid. One such group is the Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos de Primo Tapia. The Cruz Roja Primo Tapia operates a thrift store just up the road from our Baja retreat. As members of that volunteer organization, we’ve been dropping off donated items there to be resold to locals and thrifty tourists alike. The donations through membership fees and donated items helps insure greater emergency medical aid in our area.
We’ve known of the Cruz Roja Mexicana for years. Before our 1979 wedding at the old city hall in Rosarito we had to have the Rosarito Cruz Roja draw blood and give us physicals. Over the years in various cities around Mexico we’ve had occasion to seek their assistance for minor maladies and/or tests and checkups.
Cruz Roja Voluntarios de Rosarito
In the northern Baja area, some Rosarito expats got together in 2009 and formed Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos de Rosarito to assist that long established delegation.
That Rosarito Cruz Roja volunteer group is a larger (with over 550 active members today) and older chapter than ours in Primo Tapia. The Rosarito group operates a huge thrift store (behind Waldo’s on Ave. Lazaro Cardenas). If you’re a reader like I am, you’ll spend some time browsing through the huge paperback collection there.
That thrift store operation, along with other special events, also enables them to support the local Cruz Roja Hospital Rosarito.
Cruz Roja Primo Tapia
Even with the assistance from the Rosarito expats, a shortage of funds forced the Cruz Roja Mexicana to cut back its ambulance service in the Primo Tapia area (12 miles south of Rosarito) to part-time. Thus motivated, a group of Americans living in the Primo Tapia area decided to act. One such resident and Rosarito Chapter volunteer, Lana Jordan, emailed friends and neighbors to possibly form a Cruz Roja Primo Tapia.
An initial meeting in November 2014 attracted over 100 people giving birth to the Primo Tapia chapter. Founding officers elected were Lana Jordan, President, Drew Juvinall, Vice President, Kathy Schy, Treasurer, Pam Saltzman Membership Chair, and Val Valle, Thrift Store Director.
Over 60 people became members of Cruz Roja Primo Tapia that day and more joined as their memberships to Cruz Roja Voluntarios de Rosarito expired. There continues to be a close relationship between Cruz Roja Rosarito and Cruz Roja Primo Tapia.
At that first General Meeting, donations generated enough money to get an ambulance on call the other 12 hours each day and set up the local Cruz Roja Primo Tapia Thrift Store. The store is a success, netting enough each month to pay for all of its expenses and also address Cruz Roja objectives. In fact, 2021 President Paul S. Ross noted that they are now looking for a larger location for the thrift store.
The income from memberships and special events (which include Oktoberfest activities, St. Patrick’s Day parties, and Bingo nights) provides invaluable support to Cruz Roja Mexicana.
Cruz Roja Voluntarios Americanos de Primo Tapia continues to work raising funds to support the overall mission of Cruz Roja Mexicana, and specifically to extend its services to maintain an ambulance in Primo Tapia 24/7.
As an example of the services offered to members, the Cruz Roja Primo Tapia Administration provides a Membership Card and an important 9-1-1 Alert Form.
9-1-1 Alert Forms
The 9-1-1 form provides individual medical information to Cruz Roja in case of an emergency. Members list all medications, address and location of house, emergency contacts, etc. Cruz Roja suggests that it be kept it in a safe place in case of a medical emergency, as well as copies made for designated others.
Cruz Roja Membership Card
The Cruz Roja Primo Tapia Membership Card could be needed in case of an emergency. The Administration stressed the importance of members to always carry their cards with them:
Before calling for an ambulance, members should their have membership card available, as they will be asked for the membership number. If the ambulance is called to your home and it is determined by the paramedics that it is medically necessary to transport you to the border so you can be taken to a hospital in the U.S., you will need to show your membership card so that you can obtain the benefit of a 50% reduction in the cost of this medical transport.
Regardless of whether one is a member of a Cruz Roja Voluntary Organization or not, all expats living in Baja California should have a list of documents to have on hand in case of a medical emergency. These should include:
Along with the financial support to Cruz Roja Mexicana and the possibly life-saving advice for expats, the advantages of becoming a Cruz Roja Voluntarios member are well worth the minimal annual dues.
If you’re not a member of one of these groups, you can still help. In urban areas throughout Baja California, you will often see volunteers standing at stop lights with white cans and a red cross. Give a few pesos.
Those who live full time in Baja California, or visit seasonally as snowbirds, and even weekenders or vacationers, should recognize that when they help support the Cruz Roja Mexicana, the life they help save may be their own.
Greg Niemann, a long-time Baja writer, is the author of Baja Fever, Baja Legends, Palm Springs Legends, Las Vegas Legends, and Big Brown: The Untold Story of UPS. Visit www.gregniemann.com.