The US government is warning Americans to avoid a Mexican beach hospital after years of complaints that the facility is preying on Americans by inflating prices, intimidating them and refusing to release medical records.
Each month, more than 100,000 American tourists arrive at Los Cabos on the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, drawn by its beaches and dramatic desert scenery. It turns out that they not only benefit the hotels and restaurants of the twin cities of Cabo San Lucas and San José del Cabo, but also St. Luke’s Hospital in Cabo San Lucas.
Numerous complaints were filed by U.S. citizens alleging that the hospital demanded tens of thousands of dollars in upfront payments, threatened relatives of patients, and refused to release clinical reports on how much care they actually provided. This prompted the U.S. consulate in Tijuana on Wednesday to issue an unusual “health alert” about St. Luke’s business practices.
“U.S. citizens have reported cases of denial of payment for treatment, failure to provide detailed lists of expenses, ordering unnecessary procedures, seizure of U.S. passports, obstruction of medical evacuation, and refusal to discharge patients without payment,” the consulate said in a statement.
The hospital declined to comment when contacted by phone and email on Thursday.
The Consulate has urged US citizens to contact other hospitals listed on the Consulate’s web page.
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There is some evidence that St. Luke is paying or otherwise compensating for ambulances and hotels to send American patients there.
The consulate wrote: “Please be aware that hotels and resorts in the Los Cabos area may have existing contracts or unofficial relationships with Saint Luke. ”
This was a clear reference to local media reports that the hospital was paying ambulance drivers to direct American patients to St. Luke’s.
The practice seems to be old. Six years ago, an English-language forum for travelers and residents of Los Cabos posted a comment that read: “Be aware that ambulances are constantly leaving in St. Luke.”
“Apparently drivers are paid a hefty fee to pick you up off the street and take you to St. Luke’s Church,” the travel agent said in a statement. “My friends Cabo told me that as long as I can talk, I can keep screaming. DON’T LEAD ME TO THE HOLY LUKE!!!”
Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking stories was written in a formal complaint filed in August by Scott Larson, a Los Angeles resident whose wife, Patricia Larson, was rushed to St. Luke’s Hospital while the couple were vacationing there in June. She was diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and pneumonia due to COVID-19.
Patricia Larson had severe breathing problems and was treated at St. Luke’s Hospital for 12 days.
She received good treatment, but the hospital administrators were extremely aggressive, telling her husband that they would transfer his wife to a public hospital unless he paid $50,000 immediately, and that he could not visit her unless he paid.
He put $10,000 on his credit card, but there was no more money. He eventually paid $25,000 to fly her to Arizona, where she died. The hospital billed his insurance company, United Healthcare, for $1 million, but never provided specific medical records for each treatment to justify the bill.
Lairson wrote that Mario Trejo Becerril, the director of the hospital, told him: “I want this deposit today, go outside and call your family, whoever needs you, or don’t come back to this hospital.”
“And if I ever hear you record conversations on your phone, you will never see your wife again!” Lairson said.