Ambulance, Helicopter, & Emergency Services
in Costa Rica
If you are from just about any modern country
in the world, you probably do not give emergency services a
thought. I am from the USA, and until I actually got here,
I thought emergency services and response was a given.
In Costs Rica, it is not, and it is important that you understand
exactly how the emergency system works here.
For our purposes here, I consider the basic
emergency services to include ambulance service, police
response, and of course response to fire.
I guess everyone should be concerned about
how they will get to a hospital or doctor in the event of an
emergency, but those of us older than (maybe) age 60, or with
health problems, or with children are probably more likely to
need these services at one time or another. Sadly, you
may be in for some real problems. Ambulance service in Costa Rica is provided
almost entirely by the cruz roja, or Red Cross.
In it staffed by some truly dedicated people who must make due
with very little. They are incredibly under funded, and
receive the vast majority of their working income from sales
of lottery tickets, bingo, and a few other sources. The
government does little if anything to help these people.
In many countries, ambulances are like mini-hospitals, complete
with a wide variety of equipment and sophisticated communications
gear. The emergency techs have access to the latest and
greatest medical gear. Once the EMT reach you, you have
an excellent chance of survival. Not so here. Many
of the emergency vehicles have little more than a bed, a bench,
and maybe a few bandages, antiseptics, etc. There is almost
never and communications equipment .A shocking and sad piece of information that
was recently published is that of the total number of calls
to the Costa Rican Red Cross (cruz roja), 38% go unanswered due to a lack of resources, mainly of personnel,
ambulances and gasoline.This data shows the awful situation at the
Red Cross. They are waiting on the Legislative Assembly
to approve a provision that would add ¢55 colones (about
11 cents) to each telephone bill, both land-line and cellular.
This would add ¢2,640 million colones (us$5.5 million dollars)
to their operating budget and I am sure make a HUGE difference
in their ability to respond.
I suggest you re-read that statistic if you
are planning to move here to live, especially if you are in
the high risk group who may need to rely on their service.
I constantly meet older folks (70+) who move to the beach where
medical care is often almost non existent or if available, is
at local clinics. Ambulance services in these areas may not
even be available, and the trip to the Central Valley where
there are well equipped hospitals can take several hours.
There are now a couple of
private ambulance services in the San José area that are available
on a subscription basis.
Police Response -
There are actually several police departments
here in Costa Rica. Basically, the two involved mostly
in law enforcement are the Fuerza Publica, and the Judicial
Investigating Organization (OIJ or commonly Oh - E - Hota).The Fuerza Publica is who you would
call if you have been robbed, your car stolen, or maybe your
home has been broken into. Sadly, as many tourists and
residents here soon learn, you will likely not get much if any
response. Like the cruz roja, these police are
enormously under funded and seldom have the manpower or vehicles
to respond to a crime. One recent article mentioned that
so many of their vehicles were in the shop awaiting repairs,
that some officers on the road from San José to Puerto Limon
had to hitchhike to the scene of the accident! Further,
while a police officer in the USA makes a very decent salary,
here in Costa Rica, police officers are paid only about 120,000
colones per month (maybe $250.00 per month). For that,
they work long hours and face the same dangers as any police
in the world. It is really sad, but is also why crime
is on the rise here.Many people here complain about the lack of
good police service or accuse them of being corrupt. Yeah,
I am sure some are. But I sort of look at them as trying
to do an almost impossible job with little or no help in the
way of funding.
The Judicial Investigating Organization, OIJ, is a step up from the Fuerza Publica and
it is this group that does the major investigative case work.
As with all the other police groups, they too are inadequately
funded to do their job. Amazingly, they do solve a very
large majority of the major crimes committed here, and they
also receive considerable better training. They also work
with the other security services in Costa Rica and with Interpol.
They appear to be a very professional group.
Fire Response -
Talk about another tough way to make a living!
Response time for the firemen (bomberos)
varies with the distance from firehouse to fire. The ability
to fight the fire depends on adequate supplies of water.
Many areas in Costa Rica do not have fire hydrants, so these
guys really have a to make do. Big fires, like the recent
hospital fire at Calderon Guardia, are covered live on TV, and
I am always amazed at just how GOOD a job these guys do often
without the latest in firefighting equipment.