Hospital hijacking….robbed while Paralyzed @ St. Lukes in San Jose Del Cabo.
My husband and I have been going to Mexico for 30 years and we had never heard of the One World/Saint Lukes Hospital or that they were notorious for ripping off their patients. Going to Mexico, primarily Baja Sur was not a new quest for us plus we’ve traveled a lot of the world without incident.
January, 2014 my husband was seriously injured in a surfing accident. Fortunately, a foreigner tourist who had first responder experience got my husband out of the water and brought him back to life with CPR. He was driven by ambulance to Saint Lukes Hospital in Todos Santos then to La Paz (where they did not have sufficient equipment to identify his injury). Instead of driving him straight to Los Cabos, they took him back to Todos Santos where the ignorant doctor sat him up in bed and declared there was nothing seriously wrong with him! (He had a spinal cord injury….he should have been stabilized the whole time!) Then the doctor on second thought said that maybe he should go to San Jose Del Cabo for further evaluation.
So at dusk we went for a 4th ambulance ride to One World/Saint Lukes Hospital in San Jose Del Cabo. (Mind you, none of these ambulances have seat belt and it’s a very rough ride for a spinal cord victim.)
We arrive at the hospital and they take the necessary measures to find out what was wrong and clear enough, he had a C2/C3 fracture. Initially the hospital staff said they would need to stabilize him and he would need to stay there at the hospital for four days. They also told me that I wouldn’t be able to get an air evacuation flight out until Tuesday and that weekends in Mexico were “damage control”. Anyway, during my husband’s stabilization period, I got approached by the staff several times that they would need my credit card in advance for their services – to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. (Mind you, I doubt your average Mexican citizen is hit up this hard at Saint Lukes!)
The following day, I was told by their medical team that my husband was getting worse and that they would have to do an operation in Cabo San Lucas. I immediately got on the phone with a family friend/neurosurgeon who highly advised against this treatment plan. He even spoke to the Mexican doctor on the phone and it was quite evident that the Mexican doctor was upset because the knowledgeable neurosurgeon from the United States disagreed with the Mexico prognosis.
At that moment I knew I could not wait a minute longer. I immediately began calling air ambulance companies from Tijuana and the United States. I was given quotes from $18K to $25K to get him out of there that very night. While I was on the phone, there was a man who had been lurking around Saint Lukes and he knew I was trying to coordinate a Medical Evacuation flight. Suddenly, this man Adrian tells me that he can get me a flight that night if I come up with $30K! I freaked out. I don’t have that kind of money. It was extortion, harassment and it was unethical and I told them we don’t treat people like that in our country even if they are illegal! You must allow my husband to go as he was in critical condition! I was so angry that I charged off to employ another service provider and he comes back to tell me that we can leave that night if I come up with $15,500. Even then, I didn’t have that kind of money because One World/Saint Lukes Hospital, Mario and his staff held us hostage for all the money we had the previous day!
Long story short, I had to borrow money from a family member to get my husband out that night. In addition to giving them $15,500 – I was forced into signing over billing rights to my insurance company to them. Conveniently, when I left the hospital they handed over the outrageous 20 page bill for Saint Lukes but conveniently left out the paperwork for the air ambulance. The air ambulance company told me they would be billing Blue Shield $30K (which I still thought was too much……but we were desperate!)
So, we took one last ambulance ride to the Mexican airport and as they were loading my ravaged husband into the plane (who was calling out in Spanish……”let’s go, let’s go”), I was sitting in the ambulance because I was freezing (I still had my clothes on from the beach from the day before) and the pilot and ambulance drivers and their helpers were all posing for photos in front of the plane and taking pictures with their i-phones – all the while my husband is screaming in pain in the back of the plane! It was insanity.
Fast forward: After a month stay at Sharp Hospital in San Diego my husband is still fighting the effects of his injury. I am grateful he is alive and we made it back to California.
The after-effects of the One World/Saint Luke Hospital experience aren’t over; the brutal harassment of their staff over money and the rip off air-evacuation company is long lasting. It has only just begun because I just recently found out this sketchy ambulance company is trying to bill my insurance for $300K – not $30K and when I contacted Mario about this, he told me he was not aware! This is simply not true. It was Mario and his henchmen that set this whole thing up. They are all in cahoots and grease each others palms. If you don’t believe me, read more about this hospital on Trip Advisor or the internet. They are notoriously crooked and there ain’t much anyone can do about it. It is even purported that Mario is a slow pay to his own doctors and that is why there is such a big turn-over of doctors in his hospital.
My advise: get medical air-evacuation insurance (always)!
Lastly, I would like to mention — it is a well-known fact to long time Baja residents and gringo publications that One World/Saint Lukes is not an honest organization. This does not stop any of these medias from accepting advertising from them. It’s pretty difficult to expose the crusty underbelly of the medical system in Los Cabos if they are paying you off.
When going to Mexico don’t be concerned about the cartel, banditos or cops wanting a little mordita, be vigilant about what YOU are going to do if you ever get injured in Los Cabos. Have a plan and if you should ever need a doctor quickly.
It was just a freak accident that initially left my husband totally paralyzed….he’s healing slowly now but it will be a very long road. Who’s to say if he will ever be 100% but thank goodness he never had that surgery in Mexico. The one “new” doctor at Saint Lukes did do one thing right and put him on IV steroids but he was also the same doctor that wanted to do the unnecessary surgery but the other doctor in Todos Santos not stabilizing him and sitting him up in bed most certainly could have caused more damage. What’s done is done, I just hope other travelers can learn from our ignorance and be warned.
Be vigilant, be aware and have a plan should ever need a doctor south of the border.