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You Don't Want to Be in a Hospital When Big One Strikes the San Andreas Fault

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Many Southern California hospitals near the San Andreas Fault aren't prepared for the Big One, according to an investigation by the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting.

The state set a high bar for the seismic safety for hospitals after the 1994 Northridge quake, because the margin for error is smaller. Their reasoning is this: First, the safety of patients already in the hospital could be at risk if power runs out, pipes leak or the building starts to crumble during a quake. Second, the hospitals need to be able to stay open, when the ranks of the injured start to come in to the hospital. If too many hospitals go off-line near the epicenter, it could spell disaster for the ranks of those seriously injured in the quake.

The Center for Health Reporting teamed up with newspapers in the San Bernardino Area, which have several hospitals near the San Andreas Fault. Only one hospital near the fault, the the 25-bed Colorado River Medical Center in Needles, would be functional after a 7.8 quake, according to analysis by UCLA. Four hospitals in San Bernardino County, including the Loma Linda University Medical Center's main and east campuses and two San Bernardino hospitals, St. Bernardine Medical Center and Community Hospital wouldn't be functional after an earthquake, according to an analysis by University of Toledo engineering professor Mark A. Pickett.

The problem isn't just in Southern California. The investigation found that hospitals statewide haven't brought their buildings up to new seismic codes:

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As of 2009, fully 1,357 hospital buildings statewide had not made fixes that should have been finished at the start of 2002, according to a December 2009 report from state regulators.
Another 1,233 buildings, or 95 percent of buildings statewide, had not yet done improvements that were due Jan. 1, 2013, according to the report. State officials caution that some hospitals may have completed upgrades, but they do not have up-to-date statistics.

What's the hold up? Money, of course. Retrofitting these hospitals has a pretty hefty price tag and the state isn't chipping in. California hospitals have long complained that the law requiring tighter seismic standards for hospitals is too expensive for them to do without help from the state:

The law's $2 million-a-bed price tag makes it the largest unfunded mandate in state history, said Jan Emerson-Shea, spokeswoman for the California Hospital Association.
"We're choosing to spend $110 billion to bring hospitals into compliance, with not one dime of public money," she said.
Many hospitals have asked for extra time to rebuild or retrofit, explaining they are financially strapped as they wrestle with the sour economy, scarce financing, lower reimbursements and a surge of uninsured patients.

Check out the rest of the investigation and an interactive map of hospitals near the fault.