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Costa Rica
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Exacerbated by pandemic, Costa Ricans face long hospital wait times

The waiting time for a non-emergency surgery at Costa Rica’s public hospitals has reached more than 520 days, up considerably compared to before the pandemic.

At 721 days, orthopedics is the specialty with the longest waiting period for elective surgery at a Costa Rican Social Security Fund (CCSS) hospital. It’s followed by obstetrics (581 days) and otorhinolaryngology (549), as a recent report in La Nacion has detailed.

In 2019, the government reported an average of a 335-day wait for an elective surgery.

Marny Ramos Rivas, director of the Caja’s waiting list, explained to La Nacion that Covid-19 has impacted several aspects of the healthcare system. Reduced capacity has extended wait times for specialist visits, for instance, and many anesthesiologists are now working in Covid wards.

“We have not yet reached 100% [capacity], but we have to work more carefully because we do not want to compromise people’s health, since mortality is extremely high in the perioperative period if COVID is contracted,” Ramos said.

“As we have many Covid cases in hospitals, we cannot keep a large number of non-Covid patients because of the risk they have. However, as vaccination progresses and the other measures are maintained, this year and perhaps the next, more security will be provided for non-Covid people.”

Costa Rica’s Social Security System was founded in 1941. The Caja is well-regarded internationally for offering Costa Ricans access to quality health care.

Still, the often-overburdened system is also often in financial difficulty. According to government data from before the pandemic, the average wait time for a non-emergency surgery at one of Costa Rica’s public hospital was nearly a year.

Wait time (2019)
Surgeries 335
Non-surgical procedures 143
External consult 189

In response, the Caja hoped to double surgical space at Hospital México and plans to construct a new hospital in Puntarenas, though much of its added capacity over the past year has been used to treat Covid-19 patients.

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