SEISMIC STANDARDS: Hospitals to Spend Billions on Retrofitting
California hospitals are facing billions of dollars in retrofitting construction mandated by a 1994 law that requires 2,700 acute care buildings statewide to ensure their facilities can withstand major earthquakes, the San Diego Union Tribune reports. Hospitals are racing against the Jan. 1 deadline to submit detailed documents reporting their ability to withstand earthquakes and prevent potential earthquake damage. Under the 1994 Alquist Hospital Facilities Seismic Safety Act, hospitals must have the plans in place by Jan. 1, 2008, and by 2030, all hospitals must be able to continue critical care services without interruption during an earthquake. The seismic standards mandate comes at a time when 60% of California's hospitals are operating in the red and federal reimbursements are at their lowest. Gary Stephany, president of the Healthcare Association of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said, "I've heard estimates anywhere from $300 million to $500 million for all the earthquake retrofit work for all hospitals in San Diego County." Stephany estimates that statewide costs range from $14 billion to $40 billion, which exceeds the assets of all the hospitals combined.
Who Will Foot the Bill?
Although hospitals originally supported the 1994 law, some are turning against it as expenses to prevent structural and non- structural damage have become a "nightmare." Many hospitals assert that the financial resources required for retrofitting are so substantial that quality of medical care will be compromised. Stephany said, "A lot of hospital CEOs were hoping some of the laws will be relaxed, extended, or the state will come up with some money to do all this." Jim Lott of the Southern California Health Care Association said, "There is a strategy to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency involved with some sort of matching program, but there hasn't been critical mass of interest by Congress or the Legislature yet." And Kurt Schaeger, deputy director for the Statewide Office of Health Planning and Development in Sacramento, concluded, "We'll start to get a better idea of the magnitude of the cost when the reports come in, and if they're all coming in with bad buildings ... it will lead us to engage in some policy response." Currently, four bills that would amend the seismic standards law are pending in the Legislature, but none include additional funding (Clark, 8/13).