Calif. hospitals still need quake retrofitting

March 3, 2010 8:01:18 PM PST
The devastation in Chile is a reminder about important retrofit work that still needs to be completed in the Bay Area. On the Hayward fault alone, there are at least a dozen hospitals between Richmond and Fremont. Statewide, hundreds of hospitals are still not up to code.

After seeing a hospital collapse in the Haiti earthquake, the Senate Health Committee is looking into how much progress California hospitals are making in retrofitting their buildings.

A law requires them to do so by 2013, but if an earthquake were to happen today, 825 structures that patients use statewide would not be able to withstand a major earthquake.

"There are significant collapse probabilities for hospital buildings in the State of California," Dr. David Carlisle of the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development said.

About 250 hospitals, mostly in earthquake-prone urban areas, will not even make the deadline at all even though it has been extend four times for some facilities since 2008.

"There are going to be a lot, both in LA plus in my area, the Bay Area, where buildings have not been retrofitted and they're not going to be a safe place to be and people will die," State Sen. Elaine Kontominas Alquist, D-San Jose, said.

Many hospitals are opting to build brand new facilities instead because retrofitting is not that much cheaper.

But those struggling say the financial burden of either option is too much.

Los Angeles County's Downey Regional Medical Center, for instance, cannot even get a loan to retrofit.

"Downey Regional unfortunately finds itself in bankruptcy courts right now because of the downturn in the hospital business has eroded margins," Rob Fuller, CEO of Downey Regional Medical Center, said.

Hospitals in such dire straits can only hope in another extension from lawmakers. Without another extension, hospitals that do not meet the deadline could be forced to shut down. That could mean some California residents will have to drive further to go to a hospital.


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