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Kaiser Starting Work on New Facility to Meet Seismic Rules

The HMO will replace its L.A. center. A construction boom is seen because of the state's strict standard for hospitals.

August 14, 2003|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

Kaiser Permanente's Los Angeles Medical Center on Sunset Boulevard is set to break ground today on a $428-million replacement facility, the latest example of a statewide effort among hospitals to meet new seismic standards.

By 2008, each of the state's 470 hospitals must retrofit, reconstruct or close any building on its campus that does not meet the new structural standards, said Jan Emerson, spokeswoman for the California Healthcare Assn., an organization representing the hospital industry. It is estimated that 975 buildings now fail to meet these standards.

"You can apply for some extensions, but between now and 2008 we're going to see a massive amount of hospital reconstruction," Emerson said.

Kaiser officials said their new Sunset project will satisfy state requirements not just through 2008 -- but through 2030.

"You get to a point where you modify and modify and then you really can't do much more," said Richard Cordova, president of Kaiser's Southern California region.

Over the next decade, Kaiser plans to replace buildings at six other Southern California medical centers -- in West Los Angeles, Harbor City, Anaheim, Fontana, Panorama City and Bellflower. Many Kaiser facilities are more than 30 years old; the Sunset hospital is 50 years old and the Fontana facility is 60, he said.

The rebuilding plan for Southern California will cost Kaiser about $2 billion, Cordova said -- $4 billion statewide. The seismic standards stem from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, when 23 hospitals suffered more than $3 billion in damage and were forced to suspend some or all services.

Although health-care powerhouses such as Kaiser Permanente, Tenet Healthcare Corp. and Catholic Healthcare West have the economic resources to weather the process, small independent hospitals, particularly in rural areas, may not survive, said Emerson of the California Healthcare Assn.

"We expect to see somewhere between 50 to 60 hospitals close just because of this law."

Cordova shared her concern about costs, saying the expense of providing health care already is rising dramatically.

"Unless a hospital has set up reserves, or has a great endowment or a fund-raising arm to do that, a lot of smaller hospitals will have difficulty," he said.

The Sunset Boulevard hospital, which is home to Kaiser's center for cardiac care, also will be outfitted with the latest in disaster-preparedness equipment and technology, said Doug Keam, director of operations.

"One of the key differences ... is while hospitals in the past were designed to make sure they continued to stand in the event of an earthquake, the new hospital is designed to continue to provide patient services."

New types of bracing will keep utility, sprinkler, oxygen and other systems working regardless of major earth movement, Keam said.

Also, the facility is tripling its capacity to treat patients exposed to chemical or biological agents during a possible bioterrorist attack.

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