our introduction to healthcare in puerto rico
Cartwheels at the beach provided an opportunity none of us really wanted; the opportunity to find out for ourselves what healthcare in Puerto Rico is like.
Waylon loves doing handstands and cartwheels at the beach and is actually quite good. A couple of weeks ago, he was attempting do a new trick; a cartwheel-flip off a short ledge near Playa Don Antonio during horse class. Unfortunately, he did not complete the move successfully and ended up landing hard on his wrist, hearing a small pop. Now Waylon is a tough kid. He’s slashed his feet up on coral and even had a sea urchin spine stuck in his foot that barely slowed him down. So when he started to complain about the pain and his arm started to swell, we knew we had to abruptly leave and get it checked out.
Urgent Care Clinics
Since it was a Saturday and we were in Rincón, we headed straight for the Costa Salud Community Medical Center there. When we walked in, there was no one at the window to check us in. After we had been standing around in the waiting area for about 15 minutes, a lady finally came out and curtly informs us there had been a medical emergency. The doctor had to leave for Mayagüez.
With that option taken off the table, we drove to the Aguada Medical Center. At this clinic, there is clipboard in the back hall where you write your name and wait to be called by triage. An hour and a half later, an x-ray confirmed our suspicions; Waylon had broken his arm just above his wrist. They put a splint on him and told us we should make an appointment with an pediatric orthopedic doctor so he could get fitted with a proper cast. In all, the visit took about 2 hours and cost $160 ($125 for the visit and $35 for the x-ray).
The clinic provided us with phone numbers for the two closest pediatric orthopedic surgeons. One was in Manati and the other in San German. Apparently there are only four pediatric orthopedic doctors on the whole island! On Monday morning, Holly called both and received no answer or means to leave a message from either. Then she found the website of Dr. Norman Ramírez Lluch, the doctor in San German, and sent a message (in English) to the email address on his site. A couple of hours later, she received a brief email back (in Spanish) providing two appointment times to choose from.
The appointment she chose was at 11am on Thursday and turned into in all-day affair. Holly and Waylon left our condo at 9:30am and returned from the hospital, exhausted, at about 6pm. Dr. Ramírez was very personable and took time to ensure that all of Holly’s questions were answered. Furthermore, being trained in the US, he spoke excellent English. The staff at the hospital, on the other hand, did not speak English for the most part. This resulted in some miscommunication and stress, even for Holly who has worked hard on learning Spanish. If you don’t know any Spanish, it would probably be wise to have a Spanish speaker with you if visiting the hospital there. The cost for the office visit was $75 and the x-ray was $30.
Our initial impressions of healthcare in Puerto Rico based on this single experience is that the urgent care clinics are well equipped and conveniently located. However, as we’ve seen in this case, specialists may be a bit more inconvenient to get to and difficult to navigate without the ability to speak Spanish. Finally, the cost seems entirely reasonable, even for those who, like us, do not currently have medical insurance.
We’ve been told that there are general practitioners both in Aguada and Rincón. This is something we are planning to look into further at some point. To be continued…