Investigation: State Falls Short in Tracking Hospital Seismic Safety
California has publicized limited information about the likelihood of hospital building collapses during earthquakes and has not required numerous at-risk facilities to provide detailed structural risk assessments, according to an investigation by California Watch.
State law requires hospitals to replace, retrofit or remove patients from certain at-risk buildings by 2013 or 2015. Hospitals placed in a lower-risk category have until 2030 to meet seismic safety regulations.
If a hospital fails to meet its seismic safety deadline, the state can revoke the facility's license, effectively shutting down the hospital.
Efforts To Assess Risk
In 2002, California compiled a list of 1,100 hospitals that could pose a risk of collapse during an earthquake. Of those, the state conducted complex evaluations of 370 hospital buildings and determined that 280 facilities had low enough collapse risks to qualify for the 2030 seismic safety deadline.
State authorities now are focusing on about 700 hospital buildings that were placed in the highest-risk category.
Of those, the state has determined collapse risks for only 90 facilities. Fourteen of those 90 facilities have been assigned collapse risks of between 10% and 32%, far higher than the 1.2% collapse risk that officials deemed reasonably safe.
About 190 facilities on the highest-risk list started to undergo risk evaluations, but did not complete the assessments. State law does not require hospitals to complete the risk evaluation process.
Concerns Over Regulatory Gaps
California does not require hospitals to determine their collapse risks, but facilities can do so voluntarily. Hospitals also do not need to determine collapse risks for each of their individual facilities, making it difficult for some hospitals to determine which building to retrofit first.
The state does not publicly post data on hospital collapse risk scores. Some hospital workers have expressed concern that the state does not require hospitals to notify patients and staff about the risks that hospitals could face during an earthquake (Jewett, California Watch, 11/6).
FAQs, At-Risk Facilities
A list of frequently asked questions about California's seismic safety standards for hospitals is available from California Watch.
In addition, a list of hospitals with the highest-known collapse risks is available from California Watch.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.