San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Vets Clinic Runs Into Regulatory Minefield

A $15 million plan to expand a private clinic to treat U.S. combat veterans is hitting some snags.

Last year, the 60-doctor Santa María clinic in San José began treating 600 of the estimated 16,000 U.S. veterans living in the country after it signed a contract with the commander of a recently formed American Legion chapter.

But ambitious plans to build a heliport and high-tech rehab facility are on hold pending the resolution of permit applications and two citations issued by the Health Ministry.

“Anything they have in the United States, we’ll have here,” said Korean War veteran James Young, who spearheads the project. “Nobody else wants the vets, but I finally got something here.”

Hold on, says the Health Ministry. Mercedes Carvajal, the ministry director responsible for the clinic’s oversight, said two outstanding violations, one that resulted in the facility’s medical lab being shut down on Feb. 28, need to be resolved first. The citations were for not having qualified personnel to run a lab and not properly maintaining radiography equipment, such as X-ray machines.

Carvajal said the clinic has not responded to the citations and further disciplinary action may be required.

She also said she was unaware of any permit applications for the expansion.

As of Wednesday, hospital officials did not return messages requesting comment.

U.S. Embassy officials also registered some concerns about the project.

At a March 28 press conference, Young, who created the Veterans Care International corporation that signed the April 2007 contract with the hospital, claimed he had the approval of the U.S. Embassy, whose staff was in attendance, and the U.S. Veteran’s Administration.

Embassy spokeswoman Magda Siekert and federal benefits counselor Jane McEntee said they had no direct involvement with the project and the embassy didn’t approve or endorse it.

“It’s important that veterans get good health care and it’s important they get the right information,” Siekert said.

In response to the Health Ministry’s statements, Young said the applications are ready to submit and the citations would be resolved soon.

“We’ll break ground as soon as the permits go through,” he insisted. “It’ll take us six months to rebuild (the Red Cross building) and we hope to start within 35 to 40 days.We hope to have everything up and running within 15 months.”

The design calls for more than 100 beds, a pharmacy, medical lab, rehab center, heliport, dental clinic, cafeteria, 130-car parking garage and private blood bank.

The hospital bought the old Red Cross headquarters across the street and plans to build a sky bridge connecting the two. Young said $15 million has been secured for the expansion but the hospital is still searching for funding to purchase state-of-the-art medical equipment.

Young, who’s also the commander of a recently formed American Legion chapter of veterans living in Costa Rica, said the existence of Santa María is important because hospitals such as Clínica Bíblica and CIMA no longer accept TRICARE insurance after problems with reimbursement from the U.S. government.

He said Santa María was accepting TRICARE without any problems.


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