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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Los Robles Hospital Chooses Alternative to Retrofitting

The state of California has given hospitals with the highest risk of having their buildings collapse during a major earthquake until 2013 to seismically retrofit their buildings. But hospitals like Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks have taken a less expensive route by starting construction from scratch rather than forking out millions of dollars to invest in an old building. In 2007, the hospital completed construction of a new 200,000-square-foot hospital wing to house patient beds and is now pushing plans for a second wing of equal size to be completed before the state-mandated deadline. The project would move departments and patient beds from the original building, which was built in 1968, to the new wing. “New construction allows you to obviously create state-of-the-art facilities,” said Natalie Mussi, the hospital’s chief operating officer, who added that patients will have their own private rooms in the new wing. “It allows you to provide a lot of amenities that the patients are looking for now that you can’t provide in an old building.” More additions Hospital officials also plan to add a fourth floor and more patient beds to its first additional wing and build a new parking structure. The estimated price tag of the project is about $250 million to $300 million, which is about the same or less than the cost of seismically retrofitting the original building, said Kristine Carraway-Bowman, the hospital’s vice president of marketing and public relations. Side-stepping the retrofitting process also allows the hospital to provide more patient beds as opposed to cutting the number since supportive beams required by the state would have eliminated bed space. The project is being paid by the private hospital’s owner, Hospital Corporation of America, also known as HCA. However, not all hospitals are so lucky to have strong financial backing, especially nonprofit hospitals, Carraway-Bowman said. “The major issues are funding,” she said. Rising costs California Senate Bill 1953 passed into law in 1994 after the magnitude-6.7 Northridge earthquake. The legislation expanded an already existing law that limited certain building safety regulations to hospitals built on or after March 7, 1973. Now, all hospital buildings that house patients must be seismically evaluated and retrofitted, if necessary, by 2030. Hospitals with the highest level or risk must be retrofitted by 2013. But Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said many California hospitals are choosing to instead rebuild, similar to Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center. “Hardly anyone’s doing retrofitting because it really had turned out to be more expensive to retrofit and it’s still an old building,” Emerson said. When Senate Bill 1953 passed in 1994, state officials predicted overall costs would amount to at least $14 billion. In 2006, a study performed by the RAND Corporation showed statewide costs could actually be up to $110 billion, excluding the costs of financing. “The dilemma with the law is that it’s a completely unfunded mandate,” Emerson said. “The worst thing you can do is start shutting hospitals down because they can’t afford it and they can’t access the money necessary to meet the compliance requirements.” List shrinks However, she added that reassessment of many hospitals by the state using more advanced seismic testing technology in recent years has helped relieve some of the problem by lowering the number of hospitals that need to be retrofitted. The proposal for the second wing at Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center has already been approved by the city’s planning commission and will be presented to the city council on July 13, Carraway-Bowman said. The hospital is also waiting for approval from California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development after submitting its application nearly two years ago. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for the hospital to start construction. “We would like to start the end of this year,” Caraway said. “In order for us to meet the 2013 timeline.”

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