San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Government declares health emergency at San Juan de Diós Hospital

President Laura Chinchilla declared a health emergency Tuesday at the San Juan de Diós Hospital in San José due to the deterioration of 15 operating rooms.

Chinchilla decided to close rooms at Costa Rica’s oldest hospital, which was built in 1845, after receiving a report from Health Minister Maria Luisa Avila that cited serious structural deterioration, according to the daily La Nación.

“After that we decided it was best to declare the emergency,” Avila told the paper.

Six of the operating rooms were shut down last week. The rest will be closed in upcoming months. The report detailed problems that the Costa Rican Social Security System (Caja) has known about since 2007. Operating rooms showed damage to walls, ceilings and floors. Old electrical wiring and fittings were used in the rooms.

The executive order comes four year after damage was first noted, and should now compel the Caja to update the conditions of the rooms faster. The operating rooms have a deadline of six months to be fixed, according to Caja Medical Manager Rosa Climent, cited in the La Nación report.

In the meantime, patients requiring surgery will be transferred to other medical facilities, including Hospital Mexico, the Caja’s Ophthalmological Clinic, Hospital Blanco Cervantes and two hospitals in Heredia, north of San José.

The decision to close the rooms comes two weeks after medicals leaders at San Juan de Diós publicly protested the building’s condition. The letter, signed by 18 medical specialists, asked the Caja to intervene immediately and make badly needed improvements.

Doctors said in the letter they’d refuse performing surgery on patients in those operating rooms. They cited concerns with leaking water from the walls and a two decades old air conditioning system, among other problems.

The cost of reconstruction is estimated at ¢ 2,600 million ($5.2 million), La Nación wrote.

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