Study: Many California Hospitals Will Not Meet Deadline for Earthquake Safety Measures

By | January 22, 2007

Nearly half of California hospital buildings in danger of collapsing during a major earthquake will not meet a state deadline for safety improvements, according to a new study.

Tough standards passed after the deadly 1994 Northridge earthquake in Southern California required that vulnerable buildings be retrofitted or replaced by 2008, a deadline that was extended to 2013. By 2030, all hospitals must be able to stay open and treat patients after a disaster.

The report projected that nearly half of some 900 hospital buildings statewide will not meet the retrofitting deadline, even by 2030.

Complicating the matter is that the majority of weak buildings _ more than 80 percent — are in the densely populated San Francisco Bay area and greater Los Angeles region. Hospitals that buckle during a quake in those areas would severely disrupt delivery of care and put patients at risk.

The study, funded by the California HealthCare Foundation and conducted by Rand Corp., does not single out hospitals, but notes the buildings are on over 300 hospital campuses across the state.

The study also projects that quake-proofing the hospital buildings by the deadlines would cost between $40 billion (euro31 billion) to $110 billion (euro85 billion).

Although the law was well-intentioned, following through has proved to be a headache as half of the hospitals in the state are operating in the red, said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, which represents about 500 hospitals and health care systems.

If policymakers leave the standards unchanged, the state could be forced to close noncompliant hospitals. If the state loosens some of the requirements or provides money for hospitals to comply, it would put those that have spent millions of dollars in upgrades and construction costs at a disadvantage, the report noted.

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