Fire Sweeps through Calderon Guardia Hospital in Costa Rica


Photos with permission Periódico La NaciónA fire swept through one of the wings of the Calderon Guardia Hospital, a major health facility in San Jose, Costa Rica, in the early morning hours of July 12. Nineteen people lost their lives. The hospital, which housed highly sophisticated equipment, sustained losses that topped US$17 million. The facility was unable to continue functioning, with the exception of the emergency wing, which was not affected and quickly became a temporary hospital for the patients that were evacuated.

The fire caused the loss of use of 522 hospital beds. Patients were quickly evacuated within one hour, although it was impossible to evacuate patients from one of the surgical units, many of whom were on life support. Seventeen patients lost their lives in this unit, along with two nurses who valiantly tried to assist them. One of these nurses was the coordinator of the hospital’s disaster committee which had been quickly put into service once the fire broke out.

The Calderon Guardia was a busy hospital, dealing with 360 emergency room visits daily. The wing that was affected by the fire will have to be demolished; the other wing, which was evacuated, is being rehabilitated to recover the use of 200 beds. Another 100 beds have been relocated to the emergency wing.

A PAHO expert report following the disaster recommends organizing an interdisciplinary technical committee, with effective leadership, to review and analyze Costa Rica’s health services network before considering the reconstruction of the destroyed hospital wing. It will be necessary to examine the operational capacity of Costa Rica’s health services network to deal with medical care issues at the primary and intermediate level and, after reviewing these issues, to plan and organize the new Calderon Guardia Hospital with the services, technical complexity and number of beds it really needs to function properly.

This tragedy brings to light, once again, the need to ensure that our hospitals are safe from man-made as well as natural disasters and that they do not contribute to the loss of human life. For more about the Safe Hospitals initiative, visit


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