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[whitespace] Report identifies local hospitals as being vulnerable to earthquakes

Los Gatos--If a strong earthquake hits the Los Gatos area anytime soon, half of the buildings at Community Hospital of Los Gatos "pose a significant risk of collapse and danger to the public," according to a recent report.

The California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development examined all hospitals in the state and rated them on a scale of 1 through 5; No. 1 having the aforementioned potential disastrous effect and No. 5 signifying compliance with the state's seismic safety law and that the structure is "reasonably capable of providing services to the public, following strong ground motion."

In Los Gatos, two hospitals were included in the report. Mission Oaks Hospital, on Los Gatos-Almaden Road, was rated No. 3 for its sole building. According to the state report, while hospitals at No. 3 are compliant with the safety act and will not jeopardize life during an earthquake, they "may not be repairable, or functional, following strong ground motion."

The Community Hospital of Los Gatos has a total of 10 buildings on its campus, ranging from actual hospital facilities to storage sheds. Five buildings were rated at No. 1, two at No. 2--not in compliance with the seismic safety code, but not significantly jeopardizing life, one at No. 4--in compliance with the code, but "may experience structural damage, which could inhibit the building's availability following a strong earthquake" and two at No. 5. As a result, only three of the structures are compliant with the safety law.

Hospitals rated at No. 1 must be renovated or replaced by Jan. 1, 2008; those rated at No. 2 must be brought into compliance with the safety law by 2030.

Additionally, the report consists of ratings on nonstructural systems, such as lighting, communications and emergency power supplies. The nonstructural systems, too, are rated on a scale of 1 through 5; No. 1 hospitals must anchor their systems by Jan. 1, 2002, and No. 5 hospitals are able to function normally for 72 hours after an earthquake.

Mission Oaks' nonstructural systems were deemed vulnerable to an earthquake and received a rating of No. 1. Community Hospital systems were given a No. 2, which means the nonstructural systems are "adequately braced," but will "suffer significant nonstructural damage in a strong earthquake."

Melanie Norall, director of community relations at Mission Oaks, says that, because the hospital has until 2030 to comply, "it hasn't really been a big issue for us." According to Norall, the architects, who designed the building in 1965, were "visionaries"; not much work needs to be done.

In terms of nonstructural systems, Norall says that both the power and alarm systems are in good shape. Only the phone system needs to be upgraded by next January.

The three-floor Mission Oaks facility has a skilled nursing unit and 27 beds; patients, however, do not stay overnight at the hospital.

Tenet Health Systems is the owner of the Community Hospitals of Los Gatos. Tenet's communications Director Greg Harrison says that the state is meeting with each hospital to develop plans for renovation. Hospitals must submit their plans by the beginning of 2002, but Harrison says that there is talk of the state extending the deadline.

"Something like this you don't want to rush into," Harrison said. "You want to do the best that you possibly can."

One aspect of the state's demands that concerns hospital management is the lack of funding offered by the government. "I don't have any money to begin with; now I have to pay for this," Harrison said. "How am I going to do this?"

Major improvements will cost up to millions of dollars, and, yet, the state has not offered funding aids. Harrison says that there is a possibility of government-sponsored grants or tax breaks for the hospitals that take measures to follow the state's guidelines. Hospitals and the state are in the midst of working out the specifics of the plan.

Already, hospitals "are probably the safest buildings in California," Harrison said, because they follow a stricter code than other structures. "Hospitals are the only facilities in the state that have to comply with [the Alquist Act]."

The main building at the Community Hospital is a 140,798-square-foot, two-story structure, with a surgical suite on the second floor, and has 143 beds.

According to town records, buildings at Community Hospital were built at various times between 1962 and 1990. The hospital did not sustain any major damage during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, Harrison said.

According to Kati Corsaut, the planning and development agency's acting director of public affairs, the report stems from two different legislative actions. First is the state's official seismic safety law--the Alfred E. Alquist Facility Seismic Safety Act, which was originally passed in 1973.

In 1994, California legislature made a number of amendments to the act, including a requirement for hospitals to rate their buildings for potential seismic damage and submit the ratings to the state by Jan. 1, 2001. The state released the results in March.
Gloria I. Wang

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Web extra to the June 7-13, 2001 issue of Metro.

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