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, the caliber of the staff, and safety procedures?
International media have 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 ( NOW CLOSED), 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, the 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 (now closed) 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 the 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, a 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 the 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 firefighting 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.