Comparing Hospitals in Mazatlán

Mazatlán is blessed with a number of private and public hospitals ranging from basic, clean and caring to world-class. Many locals and expats have a clear favorite, but the choice varies depending on whom you ask. Such disagreement of opinion causes me to wonder: what are the real differences between them? Obviously there are price differences, but what are the differences in equipment, facilities, caliber of the staff, and safety procedures?

International media has shared horror stories of foreigners not being released from Mexican hospitals until their bills are paid. In contrast, friends have regaled me with effusive accounts of wonderful care here in Mazatlán that saved their lives. I’ve heard reports of foreigners being gouged on prices, and tales of people paying just a few hundred dollars for several days of attentive ministrations.

To bring some clarity to the matter, I reached out to four hospitals popular with local expats, receiving answers to a 35-question bilingual survey, a tour of their facilities and an extensive interview. I chose hospitals with a variety of price points as well as locations throughout the city: Hospital Marina Mazatlán up north, Sanatorio Mazatlán in Centro Histórico, and Sharp Hospital Mazatlán, just south of the Golden Zone. Unfortunately, after initially agreeing, Clínica del Mar, with a price point higher than Sanatorio Mazatlán but normally cheaper than our other two participants, later declined participation.

The good news is that you can get excellent care at any of these three hospitals. They are all clean, well maintained and have an attentive staff. Each has surgical facilities, an emergency room, intensive care, laboratory, x-ray equipment, general practitioners, on-site specialists, a chapel and physical therapy. They are open 24/7. All three provide food for patients and have nutritionists on staff; some other local hospitals depend on families to provide that service. None of them are huge facilities, ensuring a more intimate environment, and all three have exclusively private rooms with handicap-accessible toilets and showers as well as small closets. There is a sofa bed or cot in every room for a family member or friend to sleep at night. All have transparent price lists for services with room rates posted on the wall in the reception area—per Mexican law. All in all, we are pretty darned blessed! And this is only three of the many neighborhood clínicas and public hospitals in our fair city.

Representatives at each of the three facilities told me that, yes, Mexican law requires patients to pay their accounts in full prior to leaving the hospital; so get used to that cultural difference! Marina and Sharp have their own ambulances, while Sanatorio uses the Red Cross. In an emergency dial 911 and request transportation to your preferred hospital. Depending on which ambulance comes for you, you may have to get pushy as some less reputable hospitals are said to pay ambulances to bring them patients. Remember that public ambulances such as those of the Red Cross may not have the services expats are accustomed to; often they have oxygen and can take your blood pressure, but not much else. The private ambulances from Sharp and Marina are both equipped to international standards, with Sharp’s having a bit more room for those attending to move around and Marina perhaps having a bit more in the way of supplies and equipment. If you want to be guaranteed to be taken to the hospital of your choice, direct number for Hospital Marina’s ambulance is 669-989-3336 and for Sharp’s ambulance 986-7911.

Of the three in our comparison, Sanatorio Mazatlán has been around the longest; built in 1934, it’s run by the Daughters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is also the smallest and most economically accessible option in our comparison. Located at #1 Dr. Hector Gonzalez Guevara downtown, the facility has just 14 private rooms averaging 4.5 square meters/48 square feet in size that cost an incredible 550-650 pesos per night. Rooms have slightly different sizes, configurations and natural lighting; cost varies accordingly. Sister Martha Alicia Ramos told me that any doctor can provide services here. The hospital does not deal with insurance; patients pay cash and then file with their insurance for reimbursement. The facility is built around a central courtyard with a nice garden, keeping the interior cool yet filled with natural light. I found the space tranquil and quiet, with staff considerate and attentive. Telephone 981-2508. Quite a few local expats swear by the quality of the care here. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Sharp Hospital is located at Ave. Rafael Buelna and Jesus Kumate, tel. 986-5678 (to 5683). It was built in 1994 and modeled after Sharp Hospital in San Diego; thus, it has wide corridors and is the only local hospital with sterile medical facilities completely separate from public access, built according to the USA Joint Commission of Accreditation of Hospitals standards of the time. It has 38 private rooms—26 standard and 12 VIP—with an average size of 24 square meters or 258 square feet. Room rates are 2089 to 3160 pesos/night; SHARP cardholders receive a 30% discount off those amounts. The higher rate is for the VIP rooms, which have added luxuries such as nicer furnishings, art alcoves, an amenity kit and medical hookups that are hidden by paintings. General Administrator Tarsicio Robles and Dr. Juan Barraza, head of Medical Tourism, told me that only doctors and surgeons who are vetted by Sharp’s Certification Committee, headed by the Medical Director, have surgical privileges. The hospital is certified by the Mexican Health Council and is the only hospital in Mazatlán endorsed by the National Transplant Center. Emergency room cost is 136 pesos, and use of the surgical facility is 1650 pesos/hour.

Sharp has a dialysis unit built to Canadian standards—Get Away Dialysis, a cath lab, neonatal ICU, shock and trauma room, fertility clinic and blood bank, as well as MRI, CT, EKG, mammography, fluoroscopy and stress test equipment. They are the only facility in my survey that answered the question about percentages of national vs. international patients: 5.16% foreigners. Things such as the ample size of the intensive care unit, numerous comfy waiting rooms, outpatient dressing rooms and posting of a “Patient’s Bill of Rights” will give Sharp a familiar feel for many expats.

Sharp has a bilingual Medical Tourism department and a team specializing in foreign insurance assistance. They tell me that in most areas on most shifts they have a bilingual Medical Tourism Department staff member available, as well as a list of interpreters in various languages. All signage is bilingual. www.hospitalsharp.com

The newest hospital in our comparison, Marina Mazatlán, was built in 2014. It is located at #6048 Ave. Carlos Canseco, telephone 669-913-1020. They have 22 rooms averaging 30 square meters or 323 square feet in size—the largest rooms in our survey—plus 3 beds in ICU. Rooms cost 1678 pesos/night. The facilities are beautiful, modern and sleek. Claudia Caballero told me that Hospital Marina welcomes any doctor, though they do need to register their medical curriculum at the hospital prior to attending a patient there. Hospital Marina has staff that helps out with foreign as well as domestic insurance. Emergency room cost is 492 pesos, and use of the surgical facility is 1326 pesos/hour.

Hospital Marina is in the process of accreditation with the Public Safety Council. They have a pain clinic, dialysis, a cath lab, neonatal intensive care, and an emergency room, and services provided include endoscopy, hemodynamics, stress test, Xrays, regenerative medicine, pneumology, neonatology, clinical nutrition, orthopedics and trauma, radiology, intensive therapy and intensive pediatric therapy. I was told they transport patients who require an MRI. I was told that quite a few of the nurses, doctors and staff are bilingual, so someone is usually available to translate in a pinch. www.hospitalmarinamazatlan.com

Both Hospital Marina and Sharp have bilingual signage, a fertility clinic, nursery, CT scans and pharmacy. They both have a restaurant with a full menu, while each of their patient rooms has a flat-screen TV and both a recliner and a sofa for guests. Sanatorio Mazatlán has a cozy, Mexican feel while Marina and Sharp both feel more generically hospital-like. Sharp proudly showed me their own generators and fire fighting equipment, as well as protocols for handling a community-wide emergency or an evacuation. If you drive, it could be worthwhile noting that Sharp has a large parking lot, while Marina Mazatlán’s is surprisingly small and tight for such a new facility; Sanatorio Mazatlán parking is on the street but readily available. Sanatorio Mazatlán and Marina have numerous doctors’ offices in their facilities, a common Mexican practice; Sharp has the Polimédica offices right next door. Speaking to the culture of each institution, I feel it’s worthwhile noting that at Sharp two doctors including one administrator toured me, while at Marina a very helpful public relations person conducted my tour; at the Sanatorio I was invited to show myself around.

Please note that this article is based on the answers I received during interviews, in the questionnaire, and during my tour. It is possible some points are not fully accurate or that, since I am not a medical professional, I misunderstood something. Please be sure to conduct your own investigation and determination on fit for your needs. Questions to ask yourself when choosing a hospital in Mazatlán might wisely include: Do I want or need English- or French-speaking staff? Does my favorite doctor have privileges at the hospital? Does the hospital have the equipment that my treatment will require? Does the hospital provide a specially priced package for the service I require (a common practice and well worth asking about).

The time to plan for your first or next hospital experience is now. You probably have a clinic or hospital right in your neighborhood. Taking a day to become familiar with what is available and most appropriate to your health needs and personal preferences, as well as budget, is time well spent. I certainly hope this article has motivated you to do so.

Below I post a complete recap of the survey results, word for word as the surveys were submitted to me. I trust you find it helpful. Click to view the images full size. You can also print these out, if you wish. To download original PDFs, click here.

 

Please help your neighbors and our visitors by sharing your experiences with hospital care in Mazatlán, and your advice. Thanks!

Comic-Con Mazatlán

DSC_2479©Ok, our local “Comic-Con” is a whole lot smaller than San Diego‘s, but it sure is a whole lot of fun and growing every year. The event also shows what one 20 year old young woman can do when she sets her mind to it! These young people know how to put on an event! And how to publicize it! Kudos and more kudos!

Yvonne Tirado, who is now 24, along with her team of six, just finished producing the fourth edition of Mazatlán’s “TomodachiFest,” a conference and “festival multicultural” that attracts young adults from at least three states who are passionate about anime, hip hop music, manga, comics, medieval arts and cosplay. I’ve been wanting to go for the past few years, but life didn’t let me attend until this year. And oh what energy and fun it was!

In my day we would maybe call these kids “geeks,” but here they call them “freaks.” They are largely highly intelligent, fun-loving and very creative young people who love fantasy, invest large amounts of time and talent in handcrafting costumes and memorabilia, and who are in seventh heaven once a year thanks to Yvonne and her team. The event this year took place on Saturday October 14th at the Convention Center from noon till 8pm. It was attended by well over 1100 people, mostly young adults, but also including children and families of “freaks.” Below are the poster and full program for this year’s event, as well as a photo of the t-shirt and main stage. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

TomodachiFest (“tomodachi” means “friend” in Japanese, and Japan is, of course, birthplace of anime, manga and cosplay) Mazatlán came to be because Yvonne and her friends were complaining that local conferences offered nothing of interest to young adults. They decided to change that, and despite being full-time students with little to no budget, they birthed the festival. They continue to produce the festival as volunteers.

The high energy event has several things going on at the same time. There are projections of movies and Asian pop music; a karaoke singing contest as well as a dance and cosplay/costume contests; presentations by YouTubers, illustrators and actors who dub films; workshops in drawing, crafts, medieval archery, and ink drawing; and autograph events; and several video game tournaments throughout the day; and a medieval tournament that was held outside in the late afternoon.

The contests have celebrity judges who come from out of town, and the costumes really blew me away. I’m used to seeing incredible cosplay outfits in Japan, but here in Mazatlán, where I know everyone has to make their own costumes and equipment, it truly was impressive.

There is an exhibition hall for the conference, where those attending can buy memorabilia—some of it handmade, comics, and apparel. There were also several computer stations set up for the video game contests.

I had a chance to speak with Alon Ramirez, the internationally known creator and illustrator of “Chico Detergente,” about his work. Born in Culiacán and a former resident of Mazatlán, he now lives in Tepic:

There was a long line for Alon’s autograph, and he took time to sign every one quite memorably:

Congratulations to everyone involved in TomodachiFest Mazatlán! You are shining examples that an individual and a handful of talented souls can, indeed, make a difference!

Manuel and Ignacio

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Last Friday night after the opera, my friend and I were walking around the Machado. We meet a 23 year old Aztecan named Manuel, who told us he moved to Mazatlán two years ago from the interior of the country because he wanted to live on the beach. He said he loves it here, but misses home.

His totem or spirit animal is the jaguar, and he was gifted the skull and pelt of a baby jaguar when he was younger. Apparently that little baby killed a few cows, and the farmer then killed him. Manuel wears the taxidermied piece as a headdress, along with extensive feathers and beadwork that he makes, and often sells, to make a living. He and his friend Ignacio perform on the Plazuela Machado most weekend evenings, Manuel told me. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Nacho, Manuel’s friend, is only 19. Manuel dances and Nacho plays the drum. Manuel tells me that his father taught him to dance the traditional way as soon as he learned to walk, and he’s been dancing ever since. He jumps, spins, and uses fire in a pottery incense burner. He tells me there are dances he can perform in public, and those he can not as they are private to the community. He speaks a bit of Nahuatl, but not as much as he’d like.

Welcome to Mazatlán belatedly, Manuel and Ignacio. Obviously I need to get out more often, lol, as it’s the first time I’ve met you. I very much enjoyed meeting you both, and your performance. Thank you for sharing a bit of your culture. I hope to see you both again soon and learn more.

Focus on Responsible Tourism

Three cruise lines, new air connections, 12,000 rooms in 180 hotels… We greet hundreds of thousands of national and international visitors each year in Mazatlán. Any chance I’ve gotten over the past eight years I’ve tried to encourage travelers to get beyond the stereotypical but wonderful beer and beaches to experience a bit of the “real Mexico,” be it a visit to a small town, witnessing the shrimp or mango harvest, or admiring the Mayo-Yoreme traditions.

Recently, however, I’ve been working with a colleague in Milan, Maura di Mauro, on a project, and she cautioned me about how the culture of Mursi villagers in Ethiopia was changing due to tourism. Thanks to an influx of camera-toting tourists willing to pay for photos, the villagers increasingly exaggerate their traditional practices and even falsely embellish them, to make them more attractive to visitors. Lord knows I’ve witnessed this sort of thing happening in and around Mazatlán. She also told me about Chinese tourists descending en masse on a small village in The Netherlands. Many of the Dutch residents welcome the added economic boost such international tourism provides, but they have also experienced downsides to such tourism and, again, changes to their culture. We in Mazatlán sure experience the ups and the downs of tourism, and know how important it is to our economy.

Maura said there were documentaries about both of these topics, made by the same Dutch cinematographer. She got me excited and I can not WAIT to view the two films!

The first documentary Maura told me about is called Framing the Other” by Ilja Kok and Willem Timmers  (25 min, English and Mursi with English subtitles).

The Mursi tribe lives in the basin of the Omo River in the south of the east African state of Ethiopia. The women are known for placing large plates in their lower lips and wearing enormous, richly decorated earrings. Every year hundreds of Western tourists come to see the unusually adorned natives; posing for camera-toting visitors has become the main source of income for the Mursi. To make more money, they embellish their “costumes” and finery in such a manner that less of their original authentic culture remains. The film contrasts the views of Mursi women and those of Dutch tourists preparing for a meeting. This humorous and at the same time chilling film shows the destructive impact tourism has on traditional communities. A preview is below:

 

The second film is called Ni Hao Holland: The Chinese are coming” by Willem Timmers (25 min, Mandarin and Dutch with English subtitles).

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It is a documentary about Chinese tourists and their quest for the authentic Dutch experience. Cherry, the main character, has long dreamt of swapping her home city Beijing for the Dutch village Giethoorn. She has heard and read a lot about this mythical place. The day arrives that she and her friend hop on the plane in search of adventure. In the meantime, entrepreneurs from Giethoorn work hard behind the scenes to cater to this “Holland experience.” They want to make the most of the fast-growing flow of Chinese tourists to their village. How is this authenticity created by some and experienced by others? A preview follows:

 

While I’ve yet to watch either of these movies, it sure sounds like there’s a lot to think about for tourism in Mazatlán and Sinaloa. I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Cool New Architecture in MZT

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I love architecture. No matter where I travel in the world, I find myself fascinated with spaces that are unique, both beautiful and functional. Thus I was very pleased when our Montessori school here in Mazatlán opened its gorgeous new facilities. I have always been delighted that we have a Montessori option here in town, a powerful educational alternative for our youngest students, but the work of art that is their new facility makes it even better. María Montessori considered people works of art, so it’s only fitting that a building in which to educate people would be one, too.

Mazatlán’s own Erick Pérez Páez of EPA Arquitectos (who also designed the new Carpa Olivera ocean pool) designed the complex in conjunction with Estudio Macías Paredo (Salvador Macías Corona and Magui Peredo Arenas) out of Guadalajara, and it was built by EPA in conjunction with H Arquitectos from here in town. The design is highly innovative, based on Montessori’s “constructive triangles,” the fact that the triangle is such a naturally fundamental shape—all plane geometric figures can be made with triangles. Montessori herself said education is based on a triangle: environment, love and the child. Thus, the architecture of this academy perfectly fits as a home for its occupants. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The two-story buildings are positioned to maximize the free circulation of air and the entry of natural light. Despite the heat and humidity when I visited, no air conditioners were running and a cool breeze could be felt throughout the facilities. We not only experience a hot and humid climate part of the year, but our ocean-front location wreaks havoc on buildings and equipment. This facility has been designed using materials to minimize the corrosion and the wear and tear inherent in the salinity of our location. I also delighted in the cool interplay of light and shadow; every angle seems to invite our gaze to a fascinating view or perspective, the result of so many triangular shapes and angles in the design.

Founded in 1993, Paulina Carrillo Collard and Rene de la Rocha have been running this SEP-certified Colegio Montessori Mazatlán since March 2014. When they took over the school it had 115 students from nine months to six years old; it now has 160 students up to nine years old. When the new facility opened last year it had nine students in primary school; this year it has 23, and next year 48 are enrolled. Paulina and Rene seem to have truly revitalized the school; a second multi-age classroom is being finished on the second floor now, in preparation for the new term beginning in August. Currently, preschool students still attend classes at Sierra Rumorosa 567 in Lomas, while grades 1-3 attend classes at this new facility at 6208 Paseo del Atlántico, just behind the Bancomer, next to the new Walmart in the Marina. Telephone 669 122 10 99.

Paulina and Rene would like to see the academy grow to include upper grades as well, but that will require more investment. Right now there are four hexagonal modules (1100 m2) on the site, out of a total nineteen (4000 m2) that are planned to be built. Below is an origami replica of the full design (above a timeline of María Montessori’s life), as well as architect’s renderings.

The modules are built around a central courtyard that provides open space in which the children can commune with nature, another fundamental Montessori concept. They have quite the garden growing, and actively compost. A nutritionist lays out a yearly menu that involves no packaged food—better for the environment and for the health of everyone involved.

In touring the facility I was pleased to see the use of the smooth, colorful wooden objects that I associate with a Montessori education. There were plenty of mats for floor work, tactile objects to teach about nature, and musical instruments—another cornerstone of the Montessori approach. Students learn English, and I was told they welcome any volunteers from our expat/snowbird community who would be interested in helping out. I was also really pleased to see the chore list above the sink, as Montessori children are taught responsibility for their own environments, both indoor and outdoor. I loved how my son learned to put away his toys and keep his room in order at his Montessori preschool in Colorado, a concept he sadly seemed to forget once we moved to Mexico and got a cleaning lady.

If you haven’t noticed this unique architectural village tucked in just behind the bank and the recording studio, you really ought to give it a look. Kudos to all involved and thank you for adding to the educational offerings and the beauty that is Mazatlan!