There Once Was a Hospital

Best Wishes, Telenovelas

It was once said that those who died in San Juan de Dios went straight to heaven. San Juan de Dios was one of Columbia’s greatest hospitals, known for its miracles and its pioneering medical treatments. It was in a laboratory here in the capital city of Bogota that Manuel Elkin Patarroyo, one of Colombia’s top scientists, developed the first malaria vaccine.   

Unfortunately, years of economic setbacks took its toll on the hospital. By the end of the 1990s, it had developed a debt that rivaled the GDP of a small nation. Finally after 267 years of service, San Juan de Dios was forced to stop paying its employees.

With no money, no doctors, no patients, no medicine, and no energy, all that was left of the hospital were a handful of workers who stayed in the clinic to serve the local community, hoping that one day the government would compensate them for their efforts. These workers remained as long as they could without electricity or running water, but eventually they, too, succumbed to bankruptcy. Some lost their homes and moved into the hospital, others moved to other hospitals to start over.

Today the ambulances no longer run, the incubators no longer light up, and the rooms that were once used for patients hold nothing more than memories. But the bones of San Juan de Dios remain, and with them lies the hope that someday the city it once served will bring it back to life.


Photos by Nicolás Van Hemelryck