TO YOUR HEALTH

Panama 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | FOCUS: CIUDAD DE LA SALUD

After more than a year's pause, construction on the $517 million Ciudad de la Salud (City of Health) will recommence this year, with a final completion date set for 2018.

The City of Health, formally known as the Ciudad Hospitalaria Ricardo Martinelli, is to be a new 219,465sqm hospital complex on the outskirts of the city in the district of Clayton, which borders the Panama Canal. The project is comprised of 17 buildings, 38 operating theaters, 320 doctors' offices, 3,500 parking spaces, a heliport, a shopping center, and a hotel. With an expected lifespan of 100 years and a capacity to attend to 3 million patients, Ciudad de la Salud was designed with a vision to become the largest and most technologically advanced medical complex in the region, and a benchmark for hospital cities in Central America.

Spanish construction giant Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) was awarded the $517 million contract by Panama's Social Security Fund (CSS) in October 2011, after receiving a technical score of 93.6% and offering a price well below the targeted project total of $650 million. FCC beat Samsung and the SACYR- Interplus consortium, which bid $599 million and $639 million respectively. Construction of the megaproject kicked off at the beginning of 2012.

However, Ciudad de la Salud has been the object of some skepticism from some of the country's leaders. The third most expensive project to be commissioned under Ricardo Martinelli's government, which was in office from 2009 to 2014, the proposed project has come under criticism for its vast size, the high expected costs of operating the complex - estimated at $350 million per year - and its location on the site of a former antenna field in Chivo Chivo, Ancón, far away from other areas of economic activity and isolated from surrounding road infrastructure. Miscalculations in the contract and construction were highlighted following Juan Carlos Varela's entry into government in July 2014, and the project, which to date is 42% complete, was paused in November 2014. A change of name from Ricardo Martinelli Hospital City to City of Health (Ciudad de la Salud) was approved in July 2015, and is now due to be completed in 2018, three years later than initially planned.

To meet the maintenance costs, the government announced that 20% of the complex would be rented out to the Ministry of Health, which will move the new headquarters of its National Institute of Oncology (NIO) to the City of Health. A letter of intention confirming the move was signed in September 2015 by Minister of Health Francisco Javier Terrientes and head of the Social Security Fund Estivenson Girón. The NIO will occupy an area of 58,000sqm and is comprised of two buildings, including 250 beds, ten operating theaters, 12 intensive care beds, and 97 consultation rooms. However, according to representatives of FCC, the building where the NIO is to be located had originally been designated for the Pediatric Specialist Hospital, implying a need for modifications to the infrastructure and raising the cost per square meter from $2,000 to $5,000.

Recommencement of the construction, which will require a workforce of 2,500 employees, was initially announced on January 15, 2016, and FCC has reiterated its commitment to finishing the project by September 2018. However, a number of further issues have persisted, such as a lack of personnel, delays in obtaining planning permits from the Ministry of Public Works and the National Institute of Aqueducts and Sewages (IDAAN), issues with the electrical systems and water supply, and disputes regarding the construction materials use by FCC. Once completed, the new complex will no doubt put Panama at the forefront of healthcare services as a standard of excellence in Latin America, but the new start date for the project remains unclear.