Home Uncategorized Hospitals and Newsom seek to delay earthquake updates

Hospitals and Newsom seek to delay earthquake updates

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An hour after a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck Northern California on Thursday, the California Hospital Association. tweeted that “it is time to update the seismic standards, to focus on all the services that people need after a disaster of any kind.”

But the association’s tweet omitted that its proposal circulating in the state Capitol would actually weaken existing standards, giving hospitals another seven years, until 2037, to ensure their buildings continue to function after Big One and limiting required improvements to buildings that support emergency services.

The tweet also failed to mention that Governor Gavin Newsom’s office, in private negotiations at the state Capitol, supported the association’s request for more time to do less work, according to multiple sources involved in the discussions in Sacramento who were not authorized to speak. about them. Newsom’s office declined to comment.

Debates over hospital construction standards are not new in California. This time, they have resulted in a dead end between some of the most powerful forces in state politics: the unions and the hospitals.

The effort to delay legally required seismic upgrades at California hospitals is one of the few remaining issues before Newsom and the Legislature can reach a long-deferred final agreement on the state budget for the fiscal year that began the 1st of July.

Hospitals represented by the association argue that the existing seismic standards are too expensive, somehow unnecessary, and that their industry needs more time to recover from massive financial losses during the pandemic.

In a letter to legislative leaders late last month, the association claimed that even with federal aid, California hospitals lost $ 8 billion in 2020 treating COVID-19 patients and expect to lose another $ 2.2 billion. this year.

Existing law requires that by 2030, all hospital buildings will be able to function after an earthquake.

Without action on their proposal, the association says, the current standard “would consume even more billions of dollars from hospitals and, if left unchanged, is likely to result in the closure of hospitals statewide.”

The association said its proposal could slash the $ 100 billion it would cost to complete seismic upgrades in California.

“This is an important move for hospitals,” said David Simon, spokesman for the California Hospital Association. “We have learned a lot from the pandemic, and flexibility is important, and it is important to focus limited resources on emergencies.”

Simon said Newsom is not on the side of the hospital association but of strong politics.

“I think the governor is drawing on the lessons of the pandemic to design good policy going forward,” Simon said. “This is not a security issue. It is about what services are necessary and important during a disaster. What the governor is doing is recognizing a modern and clear policy it is necessary, rather than having all the buildings operational after a disaster. “

Democratic legislative leaders have made clear that any deal to change the seismic standards would need the support of the unions. A large labor force that includes the California Labor Federation, the California Nurses Association, SEIU California, the State Building and Construction Trades Council and others continue to oppose the hospitals’ proposal.

Steve Smith, a spokesman for the California Federation of Labor, said delaying implementation of the law only increases the likelihood of a major earthquake occurring before the improvements are completed.

“We know a big earthquake is coming,” Smith said. “We know that it is likely to happen sooner rather than later. It is inconceivable that hospitals are not trying to meet a deadline set decades ago. “

Smith said labor groups opposing the changes are “talking to the Legislature and the governor’s office about why this is a horrible idea.” He said that every time a governor intervenes, he brings new urgency to a proposal.

“Obviously, we have concerns about the proposal,” Smith said. “The California Hospital Association. he’s been pushing this for a long time, and we’re trying especially hard right now. “

Sources involved in the negotiations said the hospitals association and the governor’s office have tried to match the delay in seismic updates with a labor push to create the Office of Healthcare Affordability, which was included in the original budget proposal for Newsom and would set goals for health care. costs.

Union advocates say rising health care costs remain a problem for workers. The Office of Health Care Affordability would be located within the Statewide Office of Health Planning and Development and would be comprised of state union workers.

But union groups have refused to support the hospital association’s call to change construction standards, even if it means the Office of Healthcare Affordability is on hold.

On Thursday, the California Building Trades Council reiterated his opposition to “delay the necessary seismic modifications.”

“This is not the time for another disaster,” the group wrote of an image on Twitter showing the collapse of the Olive View Medical Center in the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, which spawned a state law on seismic standards for new hospital buildings.

The hospital association spokesman called the tweet “frustrating” and said it was unfair.

More than 95% of hospital buildings in the state have met seismic standards under a 1994 law aimed at ensuring that none of them collapse during a major earthquake. That law was passed after the Northridge earthquake that year, which caused serious damage to hospitals. The remaining hospitals that have not met that standard will be updated by 2025, the association said.

A separate standard under the same law, which requires that by 2030, hospital buildings be able to provide services and remain operational after an earthquake, is what the association seeks to delay and reduce. The association said that nearly two-thirds of California hospitals have not met the goal.

“We are focused on what services should be operational in the event of a disaster,” said Simon. “Does it really need to be everything? Should plastic surgery rooms be required to be operational?

Under the hospital association’s proposal, only emergency departments and related services needed during a disaster would be required to undergo additional seismic standards, with an additional seven years to meet.

Previous efforts to change the requirements of the law, including a bill last year, have failed in the Legislature.

“What’s different this time, and what’s unfortunate, is that the hospital association is making a failed legislative attempt and is using the budget process for its ultimate goal,” said Stephanie Roberson, lobbyist for the California Nurses Association. . “The process is being abused here. The Legislature has spoken. There should be a hard stop. “

With Newsom’s recall on the horizon, the governor’s support for the association’s request to delay work could backfire for him in the short term, said Larry Gerston, emeritus professor of political science at San Jose State University.

Gerston, who is writing a book on the recall, said his advocates have been combing Newsom’s background and his day-to-day activities to use anything that might support the case they are making to the public that he cannot be trusted. governor.

“Once this is made public, I think these guys will address it, not as the problem, but as another example,” Gerston said. “They keep DJing and Newsom helps them DJing. There have been a lot of unforced errors, and they take over every one of them. “

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