For decades, U.S. patients have crossed into Tijuana for lower-cost medical care, from plastic surgery to dental procedures to stem-cell treatments. Developers of a planned high-rise now say they hope to capture a share of that market, offering a wide range of services in one facility, just yards from a San Diego border crossing.
The owners of New City Medical Plaza envision a 26-story tower with doctors offices, a medical lab, a surgery center and an adjacent 140-room hotel. The idea is to provide a single location easily accessed by U.S. patients. They plan to be up and running within three years.
The facility would be part of a complex of high-rises near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, buildings visible to drivers on Interstate 5 heading into Tijuana. New City has three residential towers, with two more planned, said Isaac Abadi, the Panamanian-born chief executive of New City.
With about 30% of the space sold in the medical tower, "we're starting to move ground already," Abadi said.
The New City project comes as medical tourism has been on the rise in Baja California after years of decline. "We see an enormous potential, if we are able to promote it through a well-structured program," said Ives Lelevier, Baja California's undersecretary of tourism.
Lelevier said the medical specialties with the greatest potential are bariatric surgery, plastic surgery, ophthalmology and dentistry. Although lower costs are a major factor, the region is also a draw for U.S. Latinos who travel to Mexico for treatment because they feel a cultural affinity, he said.
About 1 million people annually cross into Baja California for health services, with 85% of the clientele from Southern California, he said. "We believe that we can bring people from areas that are farther away, something that in the medium term can turn into a greater revenue generator for the state."
Farther south, Lelevier said, a different group of investors is proposing a similar project off the Pacific Ocean, near the Metropolitan Convention Center, at the boundary of Tijuana and Rosarito Beach. The group is still looking for financing and not yet prepared to go public, he said.
Developers of New City say their aim would be to offer high-quality care in a single facility. They would minimize risk by establishing a medical committee that would screen physicians practicing there. For their surgery center, they aim to be the first in Tijuana to gain accreditation from Joint Commission International, a nonprofit that reviews medical facilities to ensure high standards of quality and patient safety.
The estimated cost for the New City Medical Plaza would be more than $50 million. Funding for construction would come from the equity in the existing New City residential towers, as well as from down payments of purchasers in the medical office tower, Abadi said.
Prices in the medical tower start at $160,000 for a 700-square-foot unit. To reserve a unit, purchasers are required to pay 30% of its cost.
At least two clients are planning on purchasing entire floors, he said.
"A lot of our patients come from the U.S. We think it's going to be very convenient for our patients to have a place to stay, to have all the medical testing that we could use available here," said Elias Bemaras, general director at ProgenCell, a company that offers stem-cell treatments.
Also planning to move is Certus Laboratorio Clinico, a Tijuana lab with a significant number of U.S. patients who cross over for testing and medical care. Owner Maria Eugenia Acevedo said she and the developers are working out "the final details for the space."
Dibble writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.