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Kaiser Oakland, Children's Hospital Oakland, Alta Bates Judged Not Earthquake Safe - Oakland Tribune

This is terrible news that must be reported. What are medical institutions doing with the money made from record health care costs? It's not being spent on safe buildings at all. I hope more people spread this story.

Half of hospitals won't meet seismic deadline
Report warns of possible medical building closures, earthquake risk
By Rebecca Vesely, STAFF WRITER

Article Last Updated: 01/18/2007 02:51:27 AM PST

Half of California's hospitals requiring seismic retrofitting won't meet a 2013 state deadline, which could lead to hospital closures or put patients at risk if a large earthquake hits, according to a report issued today.

The problem is especially great in the population-dense Bay Area and Los Angeles, where 80 percent of the hospitals needing retrofits are located, according to the study by the California HealthCare Foundation and the RAND Corporation.
The biggest issue is cost of compliance, expected to reach a staggering $110 billion, according to the report.

Not only will hospitals at risk of collapse have trouble meeting the 2013 deadline, but another looming 2030 deadline for seismic compliance may not be achievable, according to the report.

It's not that hospitals, which must pay for the construction, are dragging their feet, said report co-author David O'Neill, senior program officer for the California HealthCare Foundation.

"There's a huge metamorphosis taking place in how health care is delivered," O'Neill said.

In 1994, after the Northridge earthquake damaged 12 hospitals, state lawmakers approved Senate Bill 1953. The law required that the most vulnerable hospital buildings be retrofitted by 2008. All other buildings not compliant with new safety standards but not at risk of collapse during an earthquake have a retrofit deadline of 2030.

Thirteen years later, many hospitals required to retrofit by 2008 gained extensions to 2013 and are beginning the process.
Among the Bay Area hospitals required to meet new seismic safety guidelines by 2013 are Kaiser Oakland, Hayward, Walnut Creek, Vallejo and Santa Teresa (San Jose), Children's Hospital Oakland, Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Berkeley and Oakland, Doctors Medical Center San Pablo, Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame, St. Rose Hospital in Hayward, Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley, San Leandro Hospital, Washington Hospital in Fremont, O'Connor Hospital in San Jose, John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Mt. Diablo Medical Center in Concord, Stanford University Medical Center, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Sutter Tracy Hospital and Valleycare in Pleasanton.
New software could let some hospitals off the hook temporarily.

This spring, the state plans to do a reassessment of hospital buildings at most risk of collapse with seismic risk analysis software called HAZUS developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

This could lead to a reclassification of some buildings to a lower-risk category — and a later deadline. Some experts have predicted that more than half of the buildings could be reclassified, but mostly in rural areas of the state and the Central Valley.

Alameda, Contra Costa, San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara counties rank among the top 12 counties in terms of seismic hazard, according to the report, meaning that hospital buildings in the Bay Area may have trouble gaining reclassification.

For those hospitals that must complete their projects by 2013, many have chosen to completely rebuild to meet the needs of the modern patient. This includes more private patient rooms, multipurpose rooms that can fit high-tech equipment and a move toward outpatient services, the report said.

"Retrofitting became unrealistic for most hospitals," O'Neill said.

During the intervening years when hospitals were deciding how to rebuild, construction costs have soared.

The cost of a fully furnished and equipped hospital building is about $1,000 per square foot, more than three times the cost of an office building. Since 2001, hospital construction costs in the state have almost doubled, according to the report, partly due to the high demand for labor and materials.

For instance, plumbing can cost $42 per square foot in a hospital, compared to $3.82 per square foot in an office building, report authors wrote.

"I believe it is sticker shock," said O'Neill, who served as CEO of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and Alameda Hospital in the 1970s. "The costs are just staggering."

Highland Hospital in Oakland last month capped the cost of rebuilding its acute care tower at $547.5 million, expected to be completed past the 2013 deadline, counting on another two-year extension for projects already under way. Alameda County is unsure how it will pay for the rebuild.

Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame submitted plans to the state department overseeing the process, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, in 2005, estimating its project cost at $210.8 million. The project is now expected to cost $528 million and will be completed in 2010, a spokeswoman for the hospital said.

Kaiser Permanente is on track to finish its many projects around the state by 2013, with a total cost of $24 billion, including $8 billion in seismic costs, a spokeswoman said.

Some hospitals have undergone project revisions based on affordability, O'Neill said.

Still, it's difficult to know how much progress hospitals have made to meet the deadlines. The OSHPD has limited data on the scale and purpose of the projects, the report authors said.

Data and project plans from OSHPD, information from hospitals and other sources were used to compile the report.

Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association, said the report confirms what hospitals have been telling lawmakers for years.

"The law was based on some faulty assumptions," Emerson said. "At this point, the hospitals will not be able to comply if there isn't some modification of the deadlines."

The authors, who will present the report to state Legislative staff today in Sacramento, said policymakers can either push back the deadlines, continue on the current schedule and face some hospital closures or provide public financing for some hospitals.

"Can the hospitals continue to operate? What are the implications of pushing back the deadline?" O'Neill asked. "These are very difficult public policy decisions."
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