5. Hospital San Juan de Dios

5. San Juan de Dios Hospital

Hospital de San Juan de Dios

The Saint Sebastian Hospital, the name this complex was founded under, was created two years after the foundation of the city itself.  Since its origins, the hospital had scarce financial means and could only cover emergencies and basic needs.  In 1540 it still operated in a rustic building that was modest and small, made out of boards.  With the help of alms from the neighborhood, a wooden house that provided better conditions was built, which moreover served as housing for the hospital workers.  Despite this, its installations were continuously overflowing with patients. It even had to close down for a while due to a lack of funds.

In 1575 however, Saint Sebastian Hospital functioned in an orderly fashion, operated by women and slaves, and managed by a steward named by the Court or by the Bishop, and under strict vigilance. The steward was generally an inhabitant of the city, in charge of supervising the alms and rent of the hospital, as well as the care and repair of the houses that the institution owned.

In 1585, thanks to donations, they were able to buy four houses to rent, and the hospital moved to a more spacious location on Carrera Road; open towards the ocean. It would seem that in 1610 the hospital had approximately ten houses that were for rent.  With scarce means and many difficulties, the hospital was in a critical state of abandon, with very deficient medical attention, and within its walls more patients died than were healed.

From 1620, the city neighborhood and authorities decided to call the San Juan de Dios order to take over the hospital, which explains its current name.  That year four friars from this order arrived from Lima to take over the management and by 1629 the friars were able to prove that since they had taken over the hospital administration the mortality rate had gone down.

The building was a large stonewall house, which included a church, cloisters, salons, rooms, and patios, as well as housing the Military Hospital. In 1638 the building included “four sides that face the street” and the Military Hospital took up an entire block. The convent had an area of 2500 m2, currently reduced to 1500 m2.  At one point The San Juan friars had 20 houses for rent, which subsidized the hospital’s expenses. The number of patients the hospital treated was proportional to the volume of passengers that transited through the Isthmus, probably between 30 and 150 patients, as well as the approximately 20 friars who tended to the patients: the poor, the humble women and the soldiers, as the wealthy neighbors preferred to be treated in their own homes by graduated doctors.

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