'The Big One': How California hospitals are preparing for earthquakes

Hospitals and healthcare systems in California are rushing to comply with the state's mandated seismic safety standards by 2030, but lack of funding has put a financial strain on some smaller hospitals and forced others to close, according to AAMC News.

Five things to know:

1. In response to past earthquakes that have caused significant damage to hospitals, California has issued stricter seismic safety standards. Hospitals must comply with building codes designed to stop them from collapsing between 2020 and 2022.

2. The strictest state standards — which require that hospitals take measures to not only remain standing, but also to continue operating after an earthquake — will take effect in 2030. The standards will cost hospitals an estimated $34-143 billion and are not funded by the state.

3. Several major medical centers are building new hospitals to comply with the regulations. Stanford Medicine has spent $2 billion to construct an 824,000 square foot, 368-bed hospital, set to open this fall. At its base are 206 isolators made of steel and teflon, which are designed to move up to 3 feet side-to-side without breaking. The building's pipes and wires are also designed to be flexible during an earthquake, and the parking lot can be converted into a triage space for patients during an emergency.

4. Unlike institutions like Stanford Medicine, smaller hospitals lack funding to comply with the new standards. Some have been forced to close, including public healthcare district hospitals and critical access hospitals in rural areas.

5. Disastrous earthquakes are certain to strike California in the near future, according to seismologists. One or more major earthquakes of magnitude 6.7 will likely occur on the Hayward fault in the San Francisco Bay area by 2043. One of these earthquakes alone could kill an estimated 800 people and result in 18,000 injuries. 

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