Seismic safety bills that would have required hospitals to take expensive and time-consuming measures to lessen earthquake damage have been defeated in the California Legislature.
Hospital associations now are supporting legislation that they concede is costly but which would allow sufficient time to retrofit or retire their facilities.
In the current session of the Legislature, lawmakers have defeated three bills that would have required hospitals to retrofit facilities within 10 years, to post signs describing the seismic safety level of each hospital and to inform patients of those levels.
Interest in such legislation was spurred by the earthquake that rocked Southern California in January, damaging about three dozen hospitals and medical office complexes, some so severely they had to be closed.
The industry supports legislation introduced by state Sen. Alfred Alquist (D-San Jose), which was developed jointly by the Seismic Safety Commission, the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development, the Hospital Building and Safety Board, and the hospital industry.
The measure, passed by the Senate, was scheduled to be heard before the Revenue and Taxation Committee last week in the Assembly, or state House.
The legislation "is going to be very costly. The OSHPD estimates that it's going to cost $14 billion for hospital inpatient buildings to either be brought up to code or replaced. It's a large amount of money, but the bill provides up to the year 2008 for all potentially hazardous buildings to no longer be utilized for inpatient services," said Roger Richter, senior vice president at the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems.
The bill also would require that by 2030 all hospital buildings "be brought into substantial compliance with the Hospital Seismic Safety Act," which established more restrictive codes for hospitals in 1973, he said.
"That seems like a long period of time, but it really isn't," he said.
The bill would require OSHPD to develop regulations that would be used to set criteria for judging the seismic safety level of hospital buildings. Then, those building code regulations would need to be adopted by the state Building Standards Commission. Following that, hospitals would hire structural engineers who would apply the regulations in determining the seismic safety level of the facilities, Mr. Richter said.
Hospitals would then need to develop a long-range plan "as to what they intend to do by 2008 or 2030 to bring their inpatient buildings into compliance or off-line," he said.
Because of hospital seismic safety review requirements in California, it takes about five years from the time the architectural drawings are completed to the time a new hospital building is opened, Mr. Richter said.