I received the following email this morning. Maybe it is time to put out another advisory, that retirement in Panama is not for everyone.
Hi Don Ray,
I visited with Peter yesterday. He said he had found John on the floor at the Occidental apartment. Peter said it was a hard fall but nothing was broken. It looked like someone had taken a bat to John. Peter had him transported to Regional. When they checked in at ER no one asked who would be responsible for the bill.
Regional kept him for 4 nights. Peter purchased a wheelchair. He went out there to pick him up. They unhooked the tubes, put John in the chair and off they go. The hospital did not present Peter with a bill. or ask for payment.
Peter is trying to get John checked into El Hogar de los Ancianos. John is #4 on the waiting list. Peter said they were going to charge $700/month. Peter said there is a place in Dolega but that is too far for him to go.
Peter was very impressed that you had made the trip to the Occidental and that a lady from the embassy called.
I just thought I’d update you. Some Americans are in for a rude awakening when they learn they can’t find a care home.
Last month I visited another U.S. Citizen in Algorrobos that is also on the waiting list. He had recently had a stroke and his neighbor’s are taking care of him until a vacancy is open.
I had visited with the individual in Algarrobos and his neighbors for over 2 1/2 hours after the Embassy had contacted me. The large part of that time was explaining to the neighbors why the U.S. Embassy could not airlift the individual out of Panama and back to the U.S.
I had to explain that the Embassy doesn’t have a budget covering all citizens that decide to move to Panama. I told them that his social security payment was the benefit that the U.S. Provides and it is his responsibility how to best spend it.
They said, “but we are spending more per month on his care than he receives”. I responded that the Embassy has no authority over individual decisions.
These cases are sad to see and unfortunately they are growing. Too many people believe the misinformation published by International Living and other for profit sites that are selling real estate or preying on the naive. The sites talk about the availability of cheap healthcare and insurance. They talk about cheap living expenses. They amplify the positives and avoid talking about the negatives.
I talked to a Panamanian not long ago that was in need of a gallbladder operation. They had no insurance and went to the Regional Hospital. They were given an appointment several weeks in the future. The individual searched and finally found a doctor that would do it in Puerto Armuelles.
You may not be turned away from the emergency room, but when it is considered an elective surgery, you may not get scheduled prior to an emergency need.
If you don’t have good insurance and the ability to go to a private hospital, you may find yourself at death’s door. Even then, you may not be admitted. Recently I had a comment on a post that a person was taken to a private hospital with a heart problem and would only be admitted after putting $4,000 on their credit card. Without the $4,000 the person would have been sent to the Regional Hospital.
Even the latest case with Marion. She had directed those taking her to the hospital to go to Hospital Mae Lewis. The hospital wanted to send her to Regional Hospital because they had no blood. Luckily, the individual taking her had the right blood type and her surgeon said he would do the surgery in Mae Lewis.
Of all things that people need to consider when considering Panama as a retirement location, the first should be healthcare and health insurance. Don’t come here with a preexisting condition thinking things will be fine. Don’t assume Medicare will cover you in Panama – it won’t.
The Panama health system is being stretched to its limits. While construction is underway to increase capability to serve, where are the qualified doctors going to come from?
Extended care and elderly care is another discussion factor. As mentioned above, the one home, Hogar Santa Catalina, is full. There are two U.S. Citizens on the waiting list. The first opening may be in December.
If you do get in, you may find yourself in a solitary environment you won’t like. No English spoken by clients or staff. Visiting doctors will most likely not speak English. Cheap compared to nursing homes in the U.S. but at a cost of social loneliness.
I have written these types of cautions before. This is one of the reasons I say you should rent in Panama for a minimum of 6 to 10 months minimum before deciding to make a full move. Panama can be fine for some and a disaster for others.