As many as half of California hospital buildings at risk of earthquake damage or collapse wont meet state construction mandates because of changing economic conditions and other factors, according to a new policy brief from the California HealthCare Foundation.
Under a 1994 state law, hospitals at risk of compromising public safety during a seismic event were required to retrofit or rebuild by 2008 or face closure. Extensions pushed back deadlines to 2013, or in special cases, 2015 or 2020. Buildings with less risk face a 2030 deadline.
Some progress has been made, according to the report by the Oakland, Calif.-based not-for-profit group. The state streamlined the construction review and approval process; widespread use of advanced design-building software has reduced delays on large projects; and other new technologies can make retrofitting more attractive than complete rebuilds.
Last year, the state began re-evaluating the most vulnerable buildings using new earthquake risk-assessment software called HAZUS. As of last November, 182 evaluations were completed, and of those, 64% of structures were reclassified to a lower risk and so face a later deadline of 2030. But only one-third of high-risk buildings are undergoing the voluntary HAZUS testing, according to the report. The deadline to submit applications is in June.
It is unclear how many hospitals are failing to meet construction deadlines. The mandate involves significant financial investment, without state funding, the foundation said. The report suggests policymakers explore options including reassessing the needs for acute-care infrastructure; modifying requirements; offering financing to the most cash-strapped facilities; or developing a case-by-case assessment that includes waivers, funding and incentives. (For more on this topic, please see A seismic reprieve to 2030.)