California hospitals will miss earthquake preparedness
deadline according to Rand report
By Tamara Barak, Bay City News Service
January 19, 2007
Almost half of California's hospitals will fail to meet the
state's earthquake safety requirements by the 2013 deadline, according
to a report
released Thursday by the California HealthCare Foundation.
The report, conducted by the RAND Corporation as a follow-up
to a 2002 study, found upgrading hospitals to meet the deadline
could total as much as $110 billion.
"Obviously, if there's a major earthquake, there could be
large consequences for patients and people who work in these facilities,"
said California HealthCare Foundation spokesman Steven Birenbaum.
The seismic requirements are not only to protect patients and
staff, but also to ensure hospital facilities are stable and ready
to handle a large number of casualties if an earthquake strikes.
"The state's been fortunate in that some of the previous
earthquakes didn't produce a great number of casualties. If a
hospital wasn't prepared to handle a large number of casualties,
that would be a pretty bad situation," Birenbaum said.
The seismic deadline is mandated by Senate Bill 1953, which was
passed by the Legislature in 1994 in the wake of the 6.7 magnitude
Northridge quake, which caused $3 billion in damage to Southern
The law required all California hospitals to undertake retrofitting
or reconstruction by 2008, which later was extended to 2013. It
mandates that all hospitals must be earthquake-safe by 2030.
The report released today estimates that most hospitals in the
state will miss the 2030 deadline as well.
"The question is whether these deadlines will ever be met,"
Birenbaum said. "Some hospitals are preparing. Others are
playing a wait-and-see game to see if the Legislature will change."
Hospitals face obstacles in meeting the mandate - the largest
of which is the cost of construction, the report acknowledged.
"Hospitals are about the most expensive infrastructure projects
around. The cost of providing a new hospital is about $1,000-per-square-foot.
That's three times that of a new office building," Birenbaum
Hospitals have few options to recoup the costs, said David O'Neill,
senior program officer at California HealthCare Foundation.
"Many hospitals are operating below or very close to break-even.
For them, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to finance
new construction with revenue from health care operations,"
The cost will likely be passed on to employers and consumers
through insurance premiums or taxes, according to the report.
"Ultimately, patient, employers and taxpayers will pay for
the cost of new hospital buildings. And the high cost of earthquake
disaster mitigation may force some hospitals to close, reducing
vital access to services in some communities," O'Neill said.
The cost of bringing Santa Rosa Community Hospital into seismic
compliance factored into the decision to close its doors in 2008,
said Karen Garner, spokeswoman for Sutter Health. Sutter announced
the closure Monday.
"Seismic safety regulations, the cost of construction, rising
health care costs - all of that played into the decision,"
Sutter does not have plans to close any of its other hospitals,
Garner said, but virtually all of them will need work before 2030.
"We're committed to meeting the timelines. We'll meet them
through a combination of retrofit, replacement, or relocation
of services," she said.
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