SEISMIC STANDARDS: Hospitals Ask Legislators for Leeway
Faced with meeting requirements of SB 1953, the 1994 bill that mandated the creation of seismic standards for hospitals to ensure they are protected from earthquakes, hospital officials now are asking legislators to reconsider some of the rules. Though hospitals already have complied with a number of the requirements, two upcoming deadlines loom large. By Jan. 1, 2008, all general acute-care hospitals that pose certain risks must be used only for nonacute-care hospital purposes; and by Jan. 1, 2030, acute-care inpatient hospital owners must demolish, replace or change all hospital buildings that are not in compliance or are not seismically retrofit to nonhospital use. The California Health Law Monitor reports that the financial burdens caused by the law are "enormous" and "likely will result in the loss of some key health care facilities in both urban and rural parts of the state." Cathryn Reynolds, representing the California Healthcare Association, noted several problems that could hold back hospital compliance:
- Original cost estimates of implementing the bill were $14 million, but a recent study pegs that number at $24 billion. Plus the new estimate does not account for financing costs, inflation in construction costs, demand pressures on engineering, architectural and construction prices and revenues a hospital might lose during construction;
- Some buildings need more extensive retrofitting or renovation than originally expected;
- Supply and demand for architects, engineers and contractors have escalated costs and might make it difficult for hospitals to hire qualified workers;
- Some hospitals that have determined it would be less expensive to rebuild than to retrofit do not have the funding to do so.
- Change the Cal-Mortgage Insurance Loan Program to ensure that existing programs will be able to assist hospitals with financing and tax policies. Support a program that would provide loan insurance to hospitals of all types;
- Extend the 2008 requirements to 2013 for worst hospitals in the most vulnerable areas when one or more buildings are being rebuilt or built new;
- Loosen implementation dates for hospitals that are at lower risk for earthquake damage;
- Allow flexibility in licensing temporary facilities to care for patients while hospitals are being retrofitted.