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.

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.

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!

El Cártel de la Chatarra/Arrest of the Junk Food Cartel

Cártel12_568Here’s one news story that I absolutely love! This morning in Mexico City the Alianza por la Salud Alimentaria (Alliance for Nutritional Health) reenacted the arrest, for violation of human rights, of four “Captains of the Junk Food Cartel”! Bravo! It’s about time!

Cártel03_568Arrested were the Coca Cola polar bear, the Cocoa Krispies’ elephant, Tony the Tiger, and Ronald McDonald. They are accused of violating the rights of Mexican children under two principal charges: manipulating and cheating children via the publicity and marketing of their products, and introducing food and beverages that contribute to the obesity epidemic of Mexico’s children. During the arrest, officials explained the specific criminal actions of which each of these captains is accused:

  • Tony “the Tiger” falsely tells children that eating Frosted Flakes will lead to success in sports, despite the fact that 40% of the weight of the product he peddles is sugar. He is held responsible for displacing oats and amaranth from the diet of Mexican children.
  • Melvin “the Elephant” is accused of distributing Cocoa Krispies, a substance containing 35% sugar and four artificial colors, three of which are associated with hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder in children. Yet, this is the most advertised product on television.
  • Ronald McDonald, alias “the Clown,” entered Mexico in 1985. He now operates out of 400 locations in Mexico. He uses toys, images of parties and healthy, happy play to induce children to ingest high volumes of fat, salt and sugar. He has previously been fined in Brazil for his nefarious activities.
  • “Coca” the polar bear, is accused of being one of the major causes of both the obesity and diabetes epidemics facing Mexico. Each 600 ml bottle of the Coca Cola that she deals contains more than 12 TABLESPOONs of sugar. Coca’s reach has penetrated every nook and corner of the country, far and wide, and has helped make Mexico the world’s largest consumer of soda. Despite Coca’s agreement with the World Health Organization not to publicize to children under 12, she has conducted numerous campaigns aimed at that very population.

Héctor Bonilla, one of the arresting officers, stated, “The unregulated presence of multinational corporations in the food sector is truly criminal. I welcome the attempt to counter the millions and millions of dollars in publicity of these organizations, with horizontal communication and the moral authority of those who are motivated by social conscience to collaborate, rather than by economic interests. New technologies are fertile territory for cunning and the unveiling of great lies to the public.”

Such a public demonstration seems to me a great way to raise awareness among kids. Congratulations to the arresting officers! Kids, let’s get outside, breathe some fresh air, and run around! Try some new, whole foods and you’ll be surprised just how good real food can make you feel!

pzqfmruAbove is one of those photos recently circulating the internet, of a school science project that illustrates the quantity of processed white sugar in various commercially available bottled beverages.

Fruit Loops, GMO and artificial coloring



El Gimnasio Más Grande del Mundo/The World’s Biggest Gymnasium

Every morning we’re privileged to walk the malecón, our front yard, Mazatlán’s 10 km oceanside promenade. Sometimes we walk it again in the evening, just because it feels so good.

We expected when we first moved here to love the views, the sunsets, sunrises, watching the sailboats and the party boats, the catamarans and the parasailers, the oyster divers, shrimp boats, cruise ships, ferries, and the jet skis. The really remarkable thing to me after living here awhile, however, is realizing that the malecón has got to be the world’s largest gymnasium (and swimming pool).

The photo above left is of a few spinning bicycles, and a lady practicing yoga, in one section of the malecón. As you can see, exercising on the malecón is both an incredible audio and visual experience!

Below I list just some of the myriad exercisers and health nuts we see every day, all day long.
The people on the cement (used to be tile) walkway, including:

  • The walkers: fast and slow, limping and smooth, sometimes with a walker, in expensive sports shoes or recycled tires, wearing sweat-repellant high-tech fibers or charity duds, some in the midst of such heated conversation they fail to notice anyone else, others greeting, hugging and kissing nearly every person they meet, the guy who squeezes a ball in his hand as he walks, those who carry weights and do arm lifts as they walk, those who take a few steps and then lunge, those who walk backwards, those who listen to ipods, and those who walk dogs (or whose dogs walk them).
  • Joggers: old and young, fat and slim, jolly and focused, that guy who jogs with his arms stretched straight out in front of him, the lady who swings her arms hard enough to knock someone out, and the guys who pump their arms. There are joggers with both knees bandaged, or braces on both knees; but they are jogging.
  • The runners, and boy do some of them run, evidently from one end of the malecón to the other! Every day! Maybe more!
  • Rollerbladers: newbies, professionals, those who stumble, those who go 50 kph, those who wear pads and helmets, and mostly those who don’t.
  • Bicyclers: on antique bikes, beat-up bikes, and state-of-the-art bicycle technology, ridden by nationals and foreigners, old and young, those dressed for the Tour de France and those in flip flops and cut-off jeans, those with brakes and without :), and those who steer with their hands and those lovely young men who don’t use any hands (some who steer by weight better than others!)
  • Those who use the cement benches for sit-ups and stomach crunches.
  • Those who use the steel railings for push-ups and leg stretches.
The people on the beach, including:
  • More joggers: those who jog in the hard sand and those who really get a workout in the soft sand. And, unbelievably, those who jog backwards in the sand (thank goodness they don’t usually do this up on the malecón itself).
  • More walkers: including those who have shoes and those who go barefoot, and those who stop to collect shells.
  • And even bicyclers: yes, mostly vendors, but those who commute, too, and have much stronger thighs than I do!
  • Those practicing yoga: usually they are in a group, with bed sheets spread out over the sand. There are quite a few different groups, with various teachers, meeting in various places at different times of the day.
  • Tai C’hi: taught by our friend Rick in the Taboada on Tuesday eves and Saturday mornings.
  • Those people who wield those sticks into contortionist poses. Looks like a martial art, but I’m not sure what it is.
Sports teams: including beach volleyball, futbol soccer and futbol americano, but also teams from schools who hold gym classes on the beach.
Boot camps/training: groups of adults (lifeguards, firefighters, police) who train on the beach, performing calisthenics, playing weird games where they carry one another or crawl through each others’ legs…


The people in the water, including:
  • Those incredible swimmers, who swim long distances down the coast and back, alone and in groups, with wet suits and without, those who have done it for years and those who join a class to shape up or improve swim strokes. There is an official “swim club” down near the fishermen’s pangas, and anyone can go early on Saturday or Sunday for lessons, during which they teach you to swim in the ocean and learn the currents. Ocean swimming is a completely different sport than pool swimming, of course.

Swine Flu

Influenza porcina, swine flu, has been found to be a combo of pig, bird and human flu viruses. Despite a huge economic hit, Mexico has closed schools, theaters, concerts, even restaurants and wedding halls. They’ve urged people to stay home despite this being a 5-day holiday weekend.

As it’s a new strain of flu, it’s of course a serious situation and demands caution. I’ve learned a couple of things.

  • Most people hear “pandemic” and think “death.” Pandemic seems to have the definition of a disease that hits a certain number of countries. That disease does not necessarily have to be fatal.
  • The WHO (OMS) and the US CDC (Center for Disease Control) do not necessarily agree on how to respond to a potential pandemic, or a new strain of virus.

One of the things we love here in Mexico is the great humor of the majority of the people. There are quite a few songs about the swine flu. My favorite is the Cumbia de la influenza.  Many people, particularly those in the hard-hit Distrito Federal, and those who interact with the public, are wearing “tapabocas” or “cubrebocas,” face masks to prevent the spread of the germs. Check out some of the ways locals have found to alleviate the fear.

Hopefully the scare will be short-lived and all the precautions taken proven unnecessary. Hopefully school will start again on Wednesday, as originally planned, or I’m afraid our kids will be studying well into summer and not get much of a break. And, hopefully, all of you are washing your hands frequently, drinking plenty of clean water, getting your rest, and staying healthy.

Los Pescaderos/The Fishermen

One of our dreams in moving to Mazatlán has been to be more physically active in the course of daily life, to be able to enjoy the outdoors more, and to eat more healthily of fresh, whole foods. With these dreams in mind, we’ve taken a long walk or bike ride most every morning along the malecón, the oceanside promenadehere in Mazatlán. A round trip bike ride from our house to the Pedro Infante statue is about 8 miles. A walk from our house to the pescaderos (fishing boats) and back is about 3 1/2 miles.

What is truly special for me is the fact that we can enjoy the incredibly gorgeous views, people-watch Mazatlecos of all ages and walks of life exercising, and we can buy fresh fish directly from the fishermen as they put in in the morning. This season of the year (June-August) they seem to come in between 7:30 and 8:30 am. Most of them have an axle with two wheels that can cradle their boat as they bring it up on the beach. Once they arrive, they unload their fish, put some of it up by the malecón for sale to the public, and take most of it across the street to what appears to be a cooperative store. They then head back to their boats to make fresh ceviche (cut up fish, carrots, lots of lime juice, onion) and wash it down usually with a ballena (whale, large bottle) of Pacifico beer (our local brew). 8:30 or 9:00 in the morning is already their lunch time. Most of the fishermen are very friendly and happy, and the boat launch beach is quite the community hangout, especially in the morning. You can see this photo I took of a domino game on the beach.

The boats are all small lanchas, with outboard motors, and seem to hold 2-4 fishermen. The lanchas remind us of the fishing boats in Cinque Terre, Italy, but they are not painted quite as colorfully. Most are named after women; we are guessing wives’ names, daughters’, girlfriends’.

If we are a little too early or too late, there is a sort of fishermen’s cooperative store right across the street from the boat launch beach. The prices are amazing, and so far there has always been a good selection. Over the last couple of months the people have gotten to know us already. The store manager is more than happy to teach me about the best methods for cooking which kind of fish. They seem to stay open as long as they have fish, so it’s best to go early.
Another thing that is amazing to me is that in the big supermarkets (Mega, Soriana…), they usually have frozen fish, not fresh. All the more impetus to take my daily walk or bike ride! I have a little basket on my front handlebars, and I carry a little cooler with ice. I can then put in the fresh fish, or pork, beef or chicken if I go to the mercado on the way also, and carry it all back safe and cool.
I’ve tried out a few new recipes, relying mostly on mangoes, limes, onion, chiles, cilantro, occasionally some cream or curry powder. Mmmm. I have not yet tried to make ceviche, as buying it is affordable and just so convenient, but I look forward to trying it out.