Retire in Mexico: IMSS

IMSS:
Maybe Not Safe for those Living or Retiring in Mexico

My personal wish for everyone who comes to live or retire in Mexico is that they don’t have to use IMSS. I had IMSS as a “benefit” when I worked as a regular, full-time employee (this is called nomina) at a language school in Cuernavaca.  

All IMSS personnel and facilities are serving about 5 times as many people as they should  be expected to serve. Under these conditions, even professional, kind people cannot give good care. You will hear that the best doctors work for IMSS, which I don’t doubt is true, but because of the under staffing and underfunding and Mexican version of the good-old-boy network, those doctors end up serving their acquaintances and clients who know them through their part-time private practices.

e-book
Click here to see a description of the e-book that  talks honestly about expat life and health care in Mexico.

I was quite under-joyed with my so-called benefits. For retired people from the U.S. and Canada, the reality of IMSS is quite shocking; even dangerous.

If you want to, stop reading right here. I don’ t have anything good to say about IMSS — especially not for retired people, who may actually need to use the service. In fact, you may not even qualify for it. See Mexico Connect to read about the exclusions.

If you feel the need to read the bad news, let me start by telling you about how IMSS almost killed my husband.

IMSS Almost Killed my Husband

When my husband broke his arm he was brought to the IMSS emergency room where they set his shattered bone without anesthetic and then put him in intensive care with no blanket. When I got there he was shivering from shock and there were no blankets available, but they lied about it and said that “the laundry would come in the afternoon.”

I stood there in the center of the circular intensive care bay and scanned the open-ended cubicles surrounding me. Each patient had a different type of blanket. None of them seemed institutional. They were crocheted, fuzzy — all looked distinctly brought from home. Just coming down from shock myself (I had just come from the scene of the accident were the police didn’t bother to tell me how my husband was, but I could see the state of the vehicles that had been involved in the accident.) I went out to the street and around the block to a public phone (there are none inside) and called a friend who lived nearby and asked her to bring a blanket that she didn’t care if she didn’t get it back.

The light in the bathroom on the intensive care floor was out and my husband had to leave the door cracked to pee. His shoes had been removed by the ambulance staff, so he stood on the floor, sticky from pee, in his socks. I could smell the reek of urine from outside. No soap nor paper were provided.

Two beds were crammed into each cubicle designed for one. The lady next to him had the tubing for her bag of blood draping over him.

After a day, he was transfered to normal care where no pillows were provided to elevate his arm. Once a day a doctor would come and say that they were waiting for the swelling to go down on his arm in order to pin and cast his shattered arm bones, but they continued to leave his arm down by his side. (No, I didn’t figure out that we had to elevate it because I was running around getting soap, toilette paper, and clothes for my husband and a lawyer to help us get through the attacks by the insurance company and the public assistance people who were saying that they were there for our protection, but getting belligerent. I learned later, from the lawyer that they were posturing for bribes.)

No food was given to him because he was “going into surgery” but the surgery wasn’t even scheduled yet. I have no idea what would have happened because the insurance of the person who caused the accident finally kicked in and my husband was transfered to a private hospital where he was immediately prepped for surgery and I cried spontaneous tears of relief.

My IMSS Clinic

The line to enroll at and do other paperwork at my clinic is usually long. A 30 minute wait is normal. You’ll see elderly people standing there on their swollen feet.

Once you get inside, there is one row of plastic chairs along the wall, facing the little reception desks for each little doctor’s office. The plastic chairs are full, and people who can’t get a seat stand up. The receptionists are grumpy.

The floors are so dirty it looks like — I can’t think of another place where I’ve ever seen floors so dirty. You can see black dirt caked thick wherever people’s feet don’t keep it thin. …

The rest of this section has been moved to Mexico: The Trick is Living Here (Second Edition). Click here to read more.

I have more horror stories than these, but I think that is enough to make it clear that I would not recommend living or retiring in Mexico if IMSS were to be your only source of health care services.

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13 comments

  1. Mel Laite Nov 28

    I have lived in Mexico for some 22 years.

    I have never experienced the issues that are discribed by this person.

    So, if he hadn’t been fortunate enough to have the insurance kick in, then what?

    Yes, IMSS is not the best option for some folks. The offices are very auster and the folks sometimes are not as happy as we would like them to be, however if I had a choice of not getting medical attention I needed because I could not afford it or IMSS. I would take IMSS any day.

    ALSO of course like the US there are good facilities and bad facilities. My mother in law who is Mexican is alive today because of the efforts of IMSS. In the States she could have NEVER afforded even the medicine she requires to stay alive!

    sign me,

    living happily in the Yucatan!

  2. Julia Taylor Nov 28

    Dear “Me,”

    Thank you for your valuable comments. I’m glad to hear that you have had good experiences with IMSS. I’m starting to suspect that IMSS provides better services in other places. It’s either that or racism was at work. My husband is very brown-skinned.

    To answer your question of “so if he hadn’t been fortunate enough to have the insurance kick in, then what?” I have to say I honestly don’t know. Since we weren’t going to give anyone any bribes, I guess he was going to have to walk out before he was too weak to walk. They were waiting for the swelling to go down, but placing the arm down by his side. We could have provided better care at home and the arm would have either healed all crooked — the shattered pieces some how welding together or we would have scraped together the money for a private doctor. All I know is that they were doing nothing to care for the arm.

    Keep the great comments coming. Each experience is so different; this site will be more useful if people share their real-life experiences.

  3. Janet Nov 27

    Lady, your website is a royal pain in the ass! I have lived here for more than 30 years and have never experienced the “hardships” you describe. Sure it’s not perfect but where is? The IMSS can be a pain I’ll give you that, but your article about kids with smallpox vaccination scars??? GIVE ME BREAK I HAVE NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER seen a Mexican child with that scar – Mexico does NOT vaccinate agains smallpox – same as your precious US (maybe you should go back there as Mexico is so terrible??). Private vaccines are expensive – but most kids are vaccinated free by the Health Sector and we don’t have millions of kids with polio, measles, etc. For someone with your snotty attitude about IMSS, why don’t you have your own medical insurance that would have “kicked in” immediately after the car accident without having to wait on someone else’s insurance? Oh, you must be one of the 47 million US citizen without health care. Also need to UPDATE the “getting a phone” information it is now incorrect – TELMEX are practically giving the lines away!!!

  4. Julia Taylor Nov 27

    Janet,

    Ocationally, I get a very angry response–similar to yours–to my description of our terrifying experiences with IMSS. It was my experience, not yours, so why do you get so angry?

    I’m sure if your loved one was in shock from pain and not getting the care he or she needed, you would have been quite upset. I’m not making it up. You even admit that IMSS is a “pain.” What does that mean? It’s been interesting being poor and telling about it. People actually treat me rudely, like you.

    I did look into getting private insurance, but it would have cost a MONTH’S wages every year, so that wasn’t an option for us.

    Also, I didn’t write that children are vaccinated for polio, I wrote “tuberculosis.” I’m not the only one who had those questions about vaccines. That post is a response to a young woman who was asking because she had seen the same scars and wanted to plan ahead for her own children. I guess she lives in a different part of Mexico than you, since you have never seen the scars and she and I both have.

    Finally, you misinterpret my attachment to the US. It’s not as strong as you believe.

    Julia C Taylor

  5. Tyler Jun 13

    I’m mexican, i live in mexico and yeah what do you expected. Mexico is one pf the most corrupted countrys of the world. Mexico have natural resources beyond belief. The problem is that it is use to enrich a few. This few have converted this great country a livin hell. Mexico and most of the latin countris is a postitud of the corporations and firs world countrys

  6. Julia Taylor Jun 16

    Tyler,

    I know. It’s sad.

    Julia C Taylor

  7. Jay Boger Nov 18

    I am a naturalized Mexican citizen and I have IMSS. I have had surgery in an IMSS hospital twice and the care was excellent. room was clean and the nurses and doctors very attentive. the clinic where I live is very up to date. Clean and the personnel very pleasant. i have heard people complain about having to wait to see a doctor for half hour!!! I have waited that long or long to see a private doctor. Also they set up appointments for the future – date and time. So no lengthy waits. I have no complaints.

  8. Julia Taylor Nov 20

    Jay, Thank you for your valuable comment. I’m so glad your experiences differed drastically from ours. I wish you had included the city in which you live. I’m curious to learn if the care is different in different places.
    Regards, Julia C Taylor

  9. Linda Wilson Aug 28

    I have had IMSS for six months and believe that it is excellent. I scheduled an appointment for the next day. (Try that anywhere in the states!) I was called in for my consultation seven minutes after the time of my appointment. The staff was cordial and I was walking out with prescriptions within a half hour. I will be making a dental appointment tomorrow. Hopefully the dentist won’t want to pull my teeth tomorrow since I would like a little more time. Happier with the system here than in the US.

  10. Julia Taylor Sep 30

    Linda, I’m always glad to hear good news on this topic. In what city to you live? I think it makes a difference.
    Julia

  11. Garry May 30

    I’ve used IMSS for 10 years and have only the highest praise. The ONLY problem I have is that the drug I have to take every two weeks is high cost and controlled from the U.S.. Each frasco costs $US2000 and is not always available. I’ve asked for a different prescription for something that IS available but all the experts here say the one I can’t get is the one I need. The only saving grace is that I couldn’t afford to buy it in the States anyway . . . .

  12. Irma Armen Jun 14

    Dear Everyone,

    I just came back from the most horrifying experience at the IMSS in Cuernavaca.
    Some may have had a different experience, if so please refer me to your doctor.
    I have video and photos to prove everything I have laid out here for you all.

    But first I want to address the comment about the vaccine scars. I am a from Mexico, I have had the vaccines, yes they leave a mark. Now a days they do not, I believe they have an more updated version of the vaccine. FYI, I know several Korean friends who have the same vaccine scars. What’s the big deal?

    My poor elderly father who had been formally employed all of his life, is in the trauma floor in the Cuernavaca IMSS. I will list the things that I experienced while I visited him this week.
    cleanliness/sanitation:
    1. no soap or paper towels in the bathroom
    2. mayor leak in the entrance of the shower stall (a bucket is placed in front of the door blocking the entrance)
    3. when the staff drain the fluids from the catheter bags they often splash on the floor, no one cleans it up.
    4. no bio hazard disposal, all the hazardous trash is placed on big and uncovered trash bins.
    5. the floors are cleaned once a day…no matter what. See #3.
    6. when the floors are mopped, the staff often splashes dirty liquid everywhere, on your feet walls, partitions, etc.
    8. All staff, doctors, nurses, technicians etc. may or may not use gloves…it seems to be a personal preferences here.
    9. when fluids are spilled on the sheets of the patient, no one cares. they may be dirty until someone feels like changing the sheets.
    10. the windows have pigeon poop on the sills, there are no screens either.
    11. a window was cracked and it was repaired by placing medical tape on it.

    Bedside manner/patient care:
    1.doctors and nurses treat you as though you are a petulant child. They may scream at you to stop bothering them, ignore you, or tell you lies.
    2. my brother asked nicely to my father’s doctor to clarify some things for him…response: Yelling “stop bothering me! I am busy!”
    3. Nurse approaches…Me: good morning! “blank stare, no response”
    4. Me to nurse at nurses station: could someone please come see my dad? he’s been in pain for several hours, his catheter is bothering him. Nurse response: the doctor is coming, wait for him. My response: do you know when he is coming? he has been in pain for a long time. No, you need to wait for him, he is busy.
    5. there are no doctors on duty on the weekends. There is one doctor that makes his rounds and he may or may not come to see you.
    6. no one cares if you are in pain , helpless or dying. they may or may not administer the right medication, they may or may not do the correct procedure, the doctor may or may not come to see you…etc.
    7. Everyone seems to be under a lot of stress, and there is a palpable culture of superiority beware who you piss off!

    Ethical concerns/access to basics and patient dignity

    1. no monitors of any kind in the trauma floor (none!)
    2. no pillows are given, you cannot bring your own…why? because someone could asphyxiate the patient.

    3. no sanitizes, or soap, or paper towels. You may bring your own if it makes it through security!
    4. there are no charts by the bed. All staff, nurses, doctors and technicians write in little note pads.
    5. Someone must stay with the patient at all times, especially at night. they have no staff to watch for your loved one, so if they soiled themselves, have an emergency, or you suspect something is wrong…you have to deal with it yourself.
    –several relatives of patients have gone bankrupt due to having to stay to nurse their loved ones at the hospital.
    6. there is a strict one visitor policy, so you cannot have reinforcements if you need to grab a bite to eat, go to the bathroom or need a break.
    7. beds are old, malfunctioning or both.
    8. no temperature control except for windows, if you are cold at night…too bad.
    9. only one chair, no place to sleep when you do the night vigil.
    12. the staff does not leave a chart by the bed. All staff expects you to know and remember all the comings and goings of everyone. You are expected to give details about the administration of medications, who came and what they did and at what time. I don’t know why they do not have patient charts!
    13. if the “camillero” feels like coming you may get help to bathe your loved one. they never give you an exact time frame of when to expect anyone–ever! but if they come and you are not present then you are out of luck. Then you get chastised by the nurses for not being around. Remember the one person rule?
    14. no one cares if your name is incorrect on the ID bracelet and on the paper tag above the bed. I and several other relatives asked repeatedly to change my dad’s name but if fell to deaf ears. Oh..just tell the nurse when she comes…(nothing happens except making her mad!)
    15. no t.v. (not a necessity…but still)

  13. Alana Jul 19

    Hello.
    I’m from Mexico living faaar away.
    I just wish to say that there is nothing more stupid than wasting your precious time in writing NEGATIVE things about a place that has given you soooo much!

    Thanks to IMSS you did NOT have to spend what should had in your country! FACE IT!!!

    If any day in your ONLY and UNIQUE life you wish PRIVATE level service, GET IT!!! And PAY for it…you GIVE YOURSELF WHAT YOU KNOW “YOU DESERVE”

    End of this TEACHING for your Inner-human 🙂

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