RETROFITTING STANDARDS: Could Threaten Some Hospitals’ Existence
A state law requiring hospitals to be seismically fit by 2008 "could force the closure of marginally profitable" facilities, according to hospital industry officials. The Healthcare Association of Southern California says fixing the facilities will cost $10 billion in the next decade -- an average of "$15 million to $20 million per hospital." The Los Angeles Times reports that under the state law implemented following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, "half of the state's 2,700 hospital buildings at 450 sites must be reinforced or rebuilt" by 2008. In addition, the law requires that by 2030, hospitals must be retrofitted or replaced to not only withstand earthquakes, but to be able to continue operating during earthquakes -- a mandate that officials say will cost an additional $14 billion.
"I would bet a month's wages that at least 50 will be closed in this region [Southern California] alone," said HASC Executive Vice President James Lott, adding that amounts to one of every five California hospitals. "In many cases, this is a life and death issue, especially as it relates to emergency services. There really is a crisis looming out there," said Roger Richter, "the hospital industry's statewide point man on the new law" (Kelley, 10/1). But state officials "said the dire predictions are exaggerated." The AP/San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Kurt Schaefer, head of facilities and development at the Office of Statewide Health Plan and Development, acknowledged that the retrofitting standards are "a challenge," but said they are "reasonable and doable." Chris Lindstrom, a legislative liaison for the state Seismic Safety Commission who helped write the law, "acknowledged that some unsafe buildings will have to be closed, but rejected the industry's claims of massive closures." He said, "I think this is an instance where the hospitals may be using information to their benefit" (11/2). The Times reports that some observers think "the hospital industry is exaggerating the threat, possibly to force the Legislature to act, either by allocating money for the upgrades or by extending the deadline."
Little Guys In Trouble
John Gillengerten, a private engineer who helps hospitals with their retrofitting plans, said hospital officials have a point. According to Gillengerten, a "state inventory of hospital buildings several years ago found that 21% were potentially dangerous" and that another "25% that were thought to be sound are turning out to be more vulnerable in seismic events than originally assumed." He said, "There's a significant population of buildings out there that are not going to make the cut." HASC's Lott said rural and inner-city hospitals will be the hardest hit. Mark Turner, CEO of Ojai Valley Community Hospital, said his small hospital can't afford the $3.3 million it will cost to make the hospital earthquake-proof. If the facility closes, the Times reports, "the nearest hospital for the Ojai Valley's 30,000 residents would be 30 minutes away in Ventura."
Ready For The Richter
But larger hospitals say they will be able make the repairs. "It's something we need to do," said Kip Edwards, chief of support services for Kaiser Permanente's California hospitals. "It's not a major shock to our system, because we've had a voluntary seismic safety program in place since 1990." But aside from retrofitting mandates, "sharp cuts in government and managed care payments" coupled with "a trend towards outpatient treatment" have forced the closure or consolidation of more than 115 hospitals in the state this decade, according to the California Healthcare Association (11/1).