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Hospital works on its earthquake readiness

Retrofitting Newhall Memorial to meet new standards proves to be a huge financial burden

Posted: April 11, 2009 1:17 a.m.
Updated: April 11, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
This much we know: Another major earthquake will rock Southern California at some point, like it did in 1994 - or perhaps worse.
The problem is, no one knows when.

In light of that, the Santa Clarita Valley's only hospital has tried to stay prepared for that inevitable temblor.

In the past month, an earthquake destroyed a modern hospital in central Italy, even as scientists keep track of rumblings deep in the San Andreas Fault.

In the wake of the magnitude 6.7 Northridge earthquake that struck Jan. 17, 1994, the state required hospitals to retrofit their facilities for another quake, said Andie Bogdan, spokeswoman for Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital.

Signed into law in September 1994, SB1953, the Seismic Retrofit Program ,gave hospitals several deadlines to complete the upgrades.

For example, acute care hospital buildings had to be at the "life safety level" by January 2008, according to the Web site for the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development.

Newhall Memorial met every deadline roughly six years ago, Bogdan said.

"For a while, we were one of the first," she said Friday. "It's especially important when you've got people under your roof who are so vulnerable."

The day of the Northridge quake, Newhall Memorial's emergency room saw some 500 to 600 patients, according to nurse Teri Sullivan, who was in charge of the ER at the time.

Bogdan said the hospital lost power, people were being treated in the parking lots and employees who lived south of the valley had problems getting to the hospital because of the toppling of the Interstate 5-Highway 14 interchange.

When Newhall Memorial set to the task of repair work on the Valencia campus, Bogdan said, it made sense financially in the long-term view to retrofit buildings to be earthquake-ready.

"It was a financial burden," she said, and added the cost of retrofitting played a role in the hospital's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in 2001.

Remaining earthquake-ready is vital, Bogdan said.

"We have to be ready for that," she said. "Our emergency room gets to exercise those talents almost every day."

She said emergency preparedness is yet another reason the hospital needs a new helipad, part of the multi-year master plan in the early stages of implementation.

Newhall Memorial is one of 13 disaster-resource centers in Los Angeles County, under the direction of the Department of Emergency Medical Services Agency.

As one of those centers, Newhall Memorial works with 11 regional hospitals and clinics to train for disasters. The hospital also maintains a cache of medical supplies and equipment, food, water, lighting, heaters and tents, according to information from Newhall Memorial.

Bogdan said she regularly meets with spokespeople from other local agencies to discuss and coordinate emergency response plans.

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