State finds way to keep mobile field hospitals


California has three mobile field hospitals in case of a disaster. A recent earthquake drill near Sacramento demonstrated how the hospitals would be used. They can take in patients, treat them, and even can perform surgeries there.

"An earthquake would damage our medical infrastructure and we would have very good use for a mobile field hospital," said Howard Backer, M.D., MPH, from the State Emergency Medical Authority.

In 2006 the state purchased three mobile hospitals for around $19 million. It costs another $1.7 million each year to house and maintain them. The state slashed the budget this year and the hospitals were all but gone.

"Everyone agrees that it's a valuable resource, including the administration and the Legislature. The challenge is just in these very difficult budget times setting our priorities," said Backer.

By moving around some state funds and getting a deal from a private company to maintain the hospitals for only $400,000, the state is going to be able to keep the mobile field hospitals for at least one more year.

"We've managed to piece together funding to maintain them for one more budget year, through the next budget year, but we still need a longer-term solution," said Backer.

The need for the hospitals isn't lost on St. Assm. Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach. She toured the 50-bed version of a hospital set up for the earthquake drill last week in Sacramento.

"It could happen at any time. You know, fires, windstorms, earthquakes, it's has happened," said Lowenthal.

Lowenthal says these hospitals are needed for the long term, but don't look for the state to step up and restore full funding.

"I've been fighting to keep it in the budget, but realistically I know with such poor revenues coming in this year, that we are going to have to have public-private partnerships for the future," said Lowenthal.

As part of the state's deal with the private partner, the company will be able to rent out one of the hospitals if a disaster happens outside of California. And as you heard, if the state budget problems stay the same and no long term solution is found, there is a good chance we will be here next year telling you that the hospitals are leaving the state for good.

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