MANAGUA – Only 323 hospitals are accredited by the U.S.-based nongovernmental organization known as the Joint Commission International. Of those, 34 are in Latin America, including four in Central America, three are in Costa Rica, and one is in Nicaragua.
In July 2010, the Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas in Managua received certification from the Joint Commission International after a rigorous three-year accreditation process that required every doctor, nurse, technician, machine, bed, waste basket, nook and cranny to be up to the standards of the prestigious medical observation board.
“There were some people on staff that actually cried when we were accredited. To be recognized as Joint Commission certified is a great honor and it required tremendous effort from every department of the hospital,” said Metropolitano’s marketing manager, Rudy Espinoza. “It was a long hard process. Observers from the Joint Commission board came and inspected every inch of the hospital, and then sent a list of all the things we needed to change to meet their standards.”
According to Espinoza, after surviving a plane crash in 1989, Nicaraguan business mogul Carlos Pellas, president of Grupo Pellas and the BAC International Corporation, decided that Nicaragua needed to construct a hospital that could provide premium medical care.
In October 1989, Pellas and his wife, Vivian, were on board a Boeing 727 that crashed into the mountains of Honduras near Tegucigalpa, killing 132 of the 146 passengers on board. Both survived the crash, escaping with severe burns and dozens of fractures and broken bones.
In the aftermath of the accident, the Pellas, who were both in critical condition, were flown to U.S. hospitals in Miami, Florida to receive surgery, therapy and treatment.
“After the accident, Carlos and Vivian decided that a world-class hospital should be available in Nicaragua,” Espinoza said. “If people wanted treatment for severe burns or to have reconstructive surgery, they shouldn’t have to travel out of Nicaragua to receive it.”
In 2005, backed by Pellas’ financing, Metropolitano Vivian Pellas opened just outside of the buzzing streets of downtown Managua, in a tranquil private lot about a kilometer off the highway that stretches to Granada.
Espinoza said that the hospital has hired many of Nicaragua’s best nurses and physicians, who are certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
“I was a nurse for the military for 25 years before coming to work here,” said María Elsa Gómez. “This is definitely the finest hospital I’ve ever worked in. This hospital has the best technology available in the medical profession.”
Metropolitano Vivian Pellas boasts one of the most advanced cardiovascular centers in Latin America, and millions of dollars were invested into equipping the hospital with the best cardiovascular imaging equipment available.
The hospital also provides chemotherapy services and treatment, heart and chest examinations, orthopedic surgery, neurology work, osteopathic evaluations, dental and orthodontic procedures, eye operations and other services.
While Metropolitano Vivian Pellas mostly treats Nicaraguan patients, the hospital’s next ambition is to capitalize on an influx of medical tourists that flock to Central America. According to the Nicaraguan Tourism Institute (INTUR), an estimated 10,000 people visited the country in 2010 seeking medical services. Though that figure continues to slowly rise, it pales when compared to the estimated 50,000 medical tourists that visited Costa Rica last year.
To capture part of the lucrative market, Metropolitano Vivian Pellas is publicizing its prices, wait times and English-speaking staff.
“We offer prices lower than other hospitals that are Joint Commission certified, such as Hospital CIMA and Clínica Bíblica in Costa Rica, but have the same equipment and quality of service,” Espinoza said. “In the future it will be to our advantage because our prices will remain much lower than other options. The cost of living is cheaper in Nicaragua and prices here are much lower.”
At Metropolitano Vivian Pellas, an ultrasound costs $50, heart surgery procedures start at $1,000, breast implants cost $2,000 and orthopedic surgeries range from $8,000 to $10,000. Espinoza said visits in the last three years from medical tourists have increased from 15 per month to 23 per month.
“We are at an exciting time here because we are starting to see some of the results of our marketing efforts and the reputation that the Joint Commission accreditation brings,” said Espinoza.