San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Heredia’s New Hospital has July Due Date

Former President Oscar Arias has christened dozens of infrastructure projects, but the one he seems most proud of is the new hospital in Heredia.

Set atop an old coffee plantation, just 300 meters south of the city’s old facility, the new hospital’s six state of the art buildings comprise a truly modern campus. Spanning 36,000-square meters, the buildings are equipped with the latest radiology and emergency care technology. The new hospital will be staffed by a 50 percent larger team than the old facility whose name – San Vicente de Paul – it shares.

Sixty-one year old Arias, who grew up in Heredia, said of the new structure, “Throughout the past four years of my government, I have seen the birth of many public works. I have inaugurated EBAIS (clinics) … and music schools and community centers.

“But I think none of these works are as close to my heart, as close to my personal history, as this new hospital in Heredia. This is the land that watched me grow, the land that taught me all that I know. And the old hospital taught me something I can never forget: the value of the Social Security System” (TT, Jan. 29).

Though the light fixtures are in, the landscaping is complete, and the new equipment ready for use, project managers don’t expect the doors to open until July 15.

Medical personnel still need to test the equipment and become familiar with how to use it, said Róger Valverde, project manager for the Costa Rican Social Security administration. “We will be ready for them May 31.”

On a recent Monday morning, a sparse team of technicians was already behind wide-screened computers learning the systems and running through processes.

The new hospital helps address a countrywide deficit in hospital beds, which has led to long waiting lists for appointments and treatments. For routine surgeries, such as hip replacements or gall bladder operations, the wait time can be years.

Valverde expects that the new hospital will reduce wait times for community members, and also help to relieve the demand for services facing national hospitals.

“With better equipment, more personnel and a bigger space, I think it will increase the number of people the hospital can receive,” he said. “In that sense, there should be improved productivity in terms of delivering services.”

Designed by two officials from Costa Rica’s state-run medical system, the hospital’s layout maximizes ease and efficiency in processing cases. Like maids moving through an old Victorian house, doctors can travel between buildings and floors without entering the public areas. The design also allows patients to flow from the waiting room, directly into consultation with a nurse, and onward to the appropriate space, whether it’s the operating table or an exam room.

The $100 million facility, constructed by San José-based Edica Ltda., is a stark contrast to its counterpart, located minutes up the road. The former hospital, with its inconspicuous yellow façade and line of people spilling out the door, resembles more the makeshift structures of wartime than a modern hospital, as medical personnel have had to make due with a space that seems wholly inadequate to the demands upon it.

The new hospital rises over a wide, open area, and is easily the dominant presence in the neighborhood. According to José Pablo Soto, an engineer for the project, the steel-colored buildings are made of expensive, high quality materials to reduce upkeep expenses.

“The buildings were designed and constructed in such a way that not only can they withstand an earthquake, but they can continue to operate immediately after a natural disaster,” Soto said.

The new structure, which took 26 months to build, may not be the cure-all for every health issue in Heredia, but it gives Costa Rica a leg up in taking care of its people, said Valverde.

“The health of an entire community improves when people can access medical services and we hope this hospital can do just that – provide better access to health services,” he said.

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