BAY AREA: Medically Prepared for an Earthquake?
After a decade of hospital cost-cutting and military base closings, the Bay Area now may be unprepared to provide adequate medical care after major earthquakes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. In 1997, the 175th Medical Brigade, a 600-member mobile hospital, was disbanded -- potentially impairing the region's ability to respond efficiently in the event of an earthquake. Another dozen military base closings -- including the centrally-located Presidio -- and "new health care economics," have left the region with a 13% decline in available hospital beds. Regarding the military base closings, Dr. John Brown, the director of San Francisco's Emergency Medical Services, argued that the "region does not have the resources to cope with a disaster," saying that the Presidio had the "ability to store logistical material," such as tents, heaters, and blankets. "All that's gone," Brown said. Data studied from the state Department of Health Services shows that the nine-county area has 2,641 fewer "acute-care hospital beds," a drop of 13% since a 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Since the 1989 quake, the region's population has jumped 14% to 6.8 million in 1999. Paired with those figures are the available acute-care hospital beds: in 1989 beds available totaled 19,878, compared to 17,237 today. According to retired Maj. Gen. Frank Schober, who headed the California National Guard under former Gov. Jerry Brown, improved local disaster-response programs may compensate for deep cuts in military resources, but still leave the Bay Area underprepared for a catastrophic quake. He noted, "We are better off than we were in 1989, but that is not good enough," (Russell, 10/14).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.