Hospital Dispute Resolved, Company Agrees to Fix Hospital Problems

March 4, 2005

THE Madrid-based construction consortiumObrascón Huarte Laín S.A. yesterday agreed to payfor deficiencies at the new Hospital San Rafael, inAlajuela, northwest of San José.The announcement follows weeks of dispute overwho is responsible for the alleged slapdash constructionand shoddy equipment at the new $36 million hospital,inaugurated last October. The feud prompted twoarrests and a rash of public accusations and denials.The consortium was accused of botching the publichospital, where reports have mounted of equipmentfailures, leaks, poorly fitted doors, broken sterilizingmachines, air-conditioning glitches, missingaccessories for medical equipment, and other problems(TT, Feb. 18).IN a press conference yesterday on the ninth floorof the towering San José headquarters of the SocialSecurity System (Caja), the public hospital administrator,Caja president Alberto Sáenz sat beside theconsortium’s director of international affairs,Francisco Marín, and said they had reached an agreementin “a meeting between gentlemen.”Officials will compile a list of the problems, andthe consortium will submit a deadline for fixingthem, he said.Sáenz said work toward that end began yesterday,and he expects the issue to be resolved “before May.”Marín said his company has “a tradition ofaround 100 years of construction works and we’venever had a complaint of this kind.”When asked what might have gone wrong, hesaid, “We’re analyzing that.” Last week, after giving the companyeight days to present a repair schedule, thenwaiting without response, Caja leadersturned the matter over to government prosecutors.Just as the company’s representative,architect Javier Escamilla, inspected thehospital and prepared a report to presentto Caja authorities, the Financial CrimesDivision of the Prosecutor’s Office turnedup the heat and arrested the company’seconomic manager, Costa RicanHernando Lazo, and the Caja’s formerassistant operations manager, IsraelMoya, on embezzlement charges, andraided their offices.Both are now serving three-month preventive-detention orders, said JudicialBranch spokeswoman Sandra Castro.Marín said yesterday Lazo is a companyman of “high esteem,” and ObrascónHuarte Laín is giving him all the legal andeconomic help possible.MOYA had been fired a week before.The Caja representative could haveactivated the $3.4 million warranty on thenew construction and equipment thatexpired in December 2004, authoritiesallege, since reports of equipment breakdownsstarted rolling in as early asSeptember.But the Caja did not act on that warrantyand was also unsuccessful in tryingto execute another $236,000 warranty forthe building that expired Feb. 24, becauserepresentatives couldn’t locate the originaldocument. The loss of that documentis under investigation, authorities said.Meanwhile, the Prosecutor’s Officecontinues its investigations and will remainsilent on the subject until the case goes tocourt or is dismissed.ON the heels of the arrests and raids,Escamilla, the company’s representative,caught a flight back to Madrid Feb. 24and was a no-show for his appointmentwith Caja president Sáenz the followingmorning. That afternoon, Sáenz scheduledanother appointment with anothercompany representative, who also stoodhim up, he told The Tico Times earlierthis week.The consortium published a statementMonday in paid advertisements in majorCosta Rican dailies saying it “is not responsiblefor the operation of the new hospitalin Alajuela, as its contractual commitmentsconsisted in the construction and outfittingof the building.“Whatever deficiencies there are thatare derived from operation of the equipmentare absolutely not grounds for legalaction.”That evening, Sáenz told The TicoTimes the company can’t blame hospitalworkers for misusing the equipment,because “it’s the same equipment we use inother hospitals in the country.”“We insist there was a series of irregularities,”he added.Marín said yesterday his company willspeak for the quality of the building and theproper functioning of equipment.PRESIDENT Abel Pacheco downplayedthe problems at his weekly Cabinetmeeting Tuesday.“There are problems in the Caja, butthey’re going to be fixed. Everything isfixable. There’s no structural damage to thebuilding, for example,” he said.Certain media are exaggerating, “andyou already know who,” he said, perhapsreferring to the daily of clout, La Nación,which has extensively covered the issuesince the onset of problems in the hospital.“In the hospital they are providingexcellent service,” the President added.The new Alajuela hospital was inauguratedlast October, three years after constructionbegan.With nearly 35,000 square meters and310 beds, it has more than twice the floorspace and 100 more beds than the hospitalit replaced (TT, Oct. 29, 2004).

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