Emergency Health Care In Belize–One-Third The Cost You’d Pay Stateside
“After a lovely weekend with friends,” writes Belize Correspondent Ann Kuffner, “my husband Mike and I stepped into our condo at dusk Sunday evening. I had just picked up my new prescription sunglasses at the Hoy Eye Center in Belize City. I was pleased that the transition lenses are very dark but not yet used to focusing with them. Entering the house, I did not see our big, black dog, Ziggy, asleep on his favorite dark rug…
“Before I knew it, my heels were in the air, and I had landed on the unforgiving tile floor, directly on my hip. The pain knocked the wind out of me.
“That night I walked around a bit, but my left leg was very sore. The next morning, I could not lift my leg at all. Mike headed to the San Pedro Poly Clinic at 9 a.m. to find crutches and to see if they have an X-ray machine. They don’t, so he set up a 10 a.m. appointment at Dr. Teresa Damera’s clinic, five minutes from our house in San Pedro.
“Right on time, we met with Dr. Damera, but her X-ray machine was on the fritz. Because of my age (I’m nearing 60), she insisted that I fly to Belize City to see a specialist that day. She recommended Dr. Sosa as the best osteopath in Belize and set up a 1:30 p.m. appointment with him at the private United Healthcare Hospital.
“We rushed home to pack a few things. Fortunately, our home at Grand Baymen is five minutes from the local airstrip. Tropic Air was great. They boarded me onto the 1 p.m. plane first and gave me the most accessible seat. A wheelchair was waiting both in San Pedro when I boarded for departure and in Belize City when I arrived.
“At the hospital in Belize City, it took about 15 minutes to get through the sign-in process. By 2 p.m., we were sitting in Dr. Sosa’s office. He quickly sent me off for an X-ray, to confirm the prognosis. Within two hours, we returned with X-rays in hand.
“The results were obvious. The options limited. After Dr. Sosa explained the pros and cons of multiple approaches, and I concurred that surgery was the best way to pin me back together. The sooner the better. The break would possibly get much worse if we delayed.
“It was possible but problematic to travel elsewhere. And, after meeting with him, I felt comfortable with Dr. Sosa. Several Belizean friends had confirmed that he is a very reputable osteopath, and he seemed competent and serious. He had performed this surgery many times before. My gut said it was ok to proceed.
“That night I went through a battery of blood tests and another X-ray. We checked into our hospital room.
“Yes, ‘we’ checked in. In Belize, Mexico, and most of Central America, hospitals allow spouses and family to stay overnight. Let me rephrase…they encourage family to stay. They understand that this assists in the recovery. Compare this to North America, where hospitals tend to boot out our loved ones by 9 p.m.
“Granted, the recliner Mike slept in wasn’t exactly comfortable. But he wanted to be nearby during the sensitive stages of my surgery and recovery. And it gave me great comfort to have him there. He found it tolerable, as he was allowed to bring in bottles of rum and coke and whatever food he preferred. No reason for him to suffer more than necessary!
“My surgery was scheduled for the next morning at 10. The nurses inserted an intravenous drip on Monday night. Everything went according to plan, and the surgery was a success. I was awake and back in my room by late afternoon. At regular intervals, nurses and orderlies checked in on me. Doctors dropped in to ask if I needed something, to bring me drugs, and to change my dressing. Good natured, all.
“Given the number of injections, drugs, and sponge baths, I got to know the nurses on a first-name basis. It was a pleasant diversion to learn more about their lives and origins. Belize is such a melting pot. The mix of nurses I met in the hospital was a reflection of the racial/cultural mix you find here generally.
“My favorite nurses turned out to be from Zimbabwe and Jamaica. Rutendo, young, sweet, and shy, was very gentle. She told me her family had emigrated from Zimbabwe seven years before.
“Rutendo seemed so young. I wondered at first if she were truly a nurse. But whenever I asked her a technical question about drugs or symptoms, she gave me a no-nonsense, logical answer, using medical terminology.
“Now to the practical. How much has my femur folly cost me? Total cost for tests, surgery, anesthesiology, drugs, and four nights in the hospital was about US$4,500.
“I checked online to find a comparable procedure at www.healthcarebluebook.com. The suggested price for the surgery I had is US$14,500. This does not appear to include preliminary tests and ongoing drugs. In other words, the cost for this experience in the United States would have been more than three times greater than what I’ve paid, conservatively talking!
“And, most important, I was very impressed by the quality and the quantity of attention I received from the nurses and doctors in the Belizean hospital. The turnaround time for medical tests and for the bill was impressive.
“Here are other observations I can make, having undergone this major surgery in Belize:
“Although they did not have the latest test equipment in San Pedro for X-rays, I was able to get quickly to a hospital in Belize City where they did have the necessary equipment. If necessary, we could have taken a helicopter out the night before. It was our choice to wait.
“X-rays and tests were turned around within a few hours.
“We were required to pay for 75% of the projected expenses before proceeding to surgery. Our credit card was accepted for this.
“Hospital staff worked with us to send the necessary documentation to Bupa, our insurance company, the day we arrived. The cost of the surgery was less than my US$5,000 deductible.
“I returned home from the hospital about three weeks ago. A physical therapist has been coming to my home in San Pedro twice per week since. He is working me hard, so that I can participate as planned at next week’s Live & Invest in Belize Conference!
“I wouldn’t miss it.”