SMA’s New CRISMA Rehab Hospital Is the Most Advanced of Its Kind in México
By Jesus Aguado
On November 6, the Centro de Rehabilitación Integral San Miguel de Allende, better known as CRISMA, officially opened a new hospital for people with disabilities on a 200-hectare tract in Parque Bicentenario. The hospital, which began construction in 2017 in order to replace its existing rehab center, is now considered the most advanced hospital in México for patients with physical, neurological, and mental disabilities.
Services at the hospital include physical rehabilitation, hydrotherapy, pediatric rehabilitation, a multisensory center, general medical services, and therapeutic gardens. It can serve 500 patients.
During the hospital’s inauguration, former San Miguel mayor and now Federal Deputy Ricardo Villarreal, who in 2017 oversaw the donation of city land for the hospital, said he was happy to see this dream of many come true.
México’s former First Lady Martha Sahagún spearheaded the construction of the hospital through the León nonprofit organization she chairs, Vamos México, which has run CRISMA since taking over the now-defunct Centro de Crecimiento (CENCRE) in 2014 and renaming it.
The hospital provides people of all ages—although it focuses on children—with state-of-the-art rehab therapy at highly affordable rates. The poorest patients will be charged 15–20 pesos per visit.
According to the hospital’s director, Sergio Legorreta, the only other comparable therapeutic services in the area available to the estimated 5,000 disabled men, women, and children of San Miguel is the Centro de Rehabilitación Teletón (Teleton Rehabilitation Center), known as CRIT, in Irapuato. Appointments there cost 200 to 300 pesos. Only eight Sanmiguelenses are currently patients there, he said, adding that CRIT receives 16 million pesos in government dollars annually.
CRISMA plans to expand its service area outside San Miguel to address the region’s unmet need, Legorreta said. The hospital hopes to eventually fund some of the subsidized care through income from 60 apartments on the premises that CRISMA wants to build, said former Mexican president Vicente Fox, who is CRISMA’s president. He did not provide further details.
CRISMA began life as the Centro de Crecimiento, a city mainstay for nearly 40 years, founded by late local physiotherapist Luz María “Lucha” Maxwell (1918–2017). The genesis of the center was in 1976 when Maxwell began working with a blind girl named Betty Robles.
“I began helping a blind seven-year-old girl who was living near the Caracol,” Maxwell said in an interview with Atención back in 2015. “Her parents would leave her alone at home, babysitting her younger siblings with just a pot of beans and some tortillas. I went to visit her, and I realized she really needed help. In those days, Debbie Kent, a woman [in San Miguel] who was blind from birth…offered to help me. [Debbie] began to work with her. Currently Betty lives in México City and works as a secretary for an organization for the blind. She is married and has a son.”
Maxwell worked with other children with various disabilities.
“I began to do some therapy, but then I realized that the children with mental and physical disabilities were also suffering from discrimination, maltreatment, and segregation. I had a wonderful mother who taught me how to share.”
And thus, a year later, CENCRE was created as a nonprofit organization. Its focus was to serve those with different levels of disability and to provide them with support so they could become independent and accepted by society.
The transition into CRISMA
Over the next thirty-seven years, CENCRE became an important resource for hundreds of San Miguel’s children with disabilities, and Maxwell continued at the helm until she was in her late nineties. But by November 2013, the organization was struggling. It shut down half of its services and was in danger of closing down completely. Maxwell approached the Vamos México Foundation.
“Luz María was 95 or 97 years old when she sought our help,” Sahagún said, “…because CENCRE had the same objectives as Vamos México. It would be a lot of work[for Vamos México] since San Miguel is two hours away from León. I was thinking ‘no,’ [but] Vicente [Fox] and I came to the center. When we saw the children, the mothers, the poverty, and the great deficiencies…this is how the ‘never’ became a ‘yes.’ There is not a person with a heart who could say no.”
Sahagún and Fox became part of a newly formed advisory council to CENCRE, the center was renamed CRISMA, and Vamos México began working with 20 of CENCRE’s patients. Sahagún said she soon saw that things had to be done differently.
“A new center had to be built,” she said, “to include adults who needed treatment due to lack of mobility.”
A legacy of helping patients in need
At CRISMA’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2017, Sahagún said that her desire to help patients in need stemmed from her father, a doctor in Zamora, Michoacán. In a speech at the event, she talked about growing up with his medical office in their home and seeing patients come in. Her father had a sign which said: Consultations are five pesos. If you do not have the money, do not worry. The doctor will take care of you. People paid with “eggs, a chicken, a pig, or nothing,” Sahagún said.
When her husband was president, she visited hospitals. On one such visit, she encountered a girl named Sofia who was paralyzed with spina bifida and had to be carried everywhere. Sahagún learned that the condition is preventable in 80 percent of cases if the mother is given folic acid during pregnancy. This inspired Sahagún to push for México’s national program to provide pregnant women with free folic acid vitamins.
From this point on, she made herself a promise to dedicate her life to helping children with differing abilities, she said.
Although the opening this week of the CRISMA hospital is arguably its most important milestone, it is only phase one of a three-part construction project. According to Legorreta, the second phase will include the construction of a parking lot, a cafeteria, a teaching and computer center, an auditorium, and general medical offices. The third phase will include additional services. The final cost will be 50 million pesos.
Early on, when the land for the hospital was donated by the municipality, some expressed opposition to the donation because of the Foxes’ involvement and because the parcel was part of the Landeta land preserve. But San Miguel’s mayor at the time, Ricardo Villarreal, supported the donation, saying, “I am pleased to know that Vicente, Martha, and some Sanmiguelenses are thinking of enlarging CRISMA, investing 40 million pesos in a center that will help the disabled. I am very happy because [residents] will have access to rehabilitation.”