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Biggest threat to Manteca Kaiser Hospital is quake safety overkill

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POSTED October 10, 2013 1:28 a.m.

The clock is ticking for the Manteca Kaiser Permanente Hospital.

The California Hospital Facility Seismic Safety Law passed in 1983 created a do or die deadline for the Manteca Kaiser Hospital.

If the existing building doesn’t meet stringent new seismic standards by 2030 it will cease to exist as a hospital.

The Kaiser hospital on West Yosemite Avenue is not alone. There are 480 hospitals that were granted one-time extensions of the original deadline of 2013 to either retrofit or build new facilities. The list also includes Doctors Hospital of Manteca, Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Sutter Tracy Community Hospital, St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, and Dameron Hospital in Stockton. The only regional hospitals not on the list are San Joaquin County General Hospital and the Modesto Kaiser Medical Center.

The cost to meet the new standards statewide has been placed at $50 billion to $100 billion excluding financing costs. This doesn’t bode well for the future cost of a hospital visit in California.

It also isn’t a good sign for the Manteca Kaiser Hospital. Given the close proximity to a Kaiser medical center in Modesto that meets the tougher seismic standards and the fact the Manteca Kaiser Hospitals’ daily in-patient census is miniscule in comparison makes the math for making a massive investment dicey at best.

Doctors Hospital of Manteca has already started the process needed to determine whether to retrofit its facility on North Street or build a new campus elsewhere in Manteca.

With patient census being five times that of Kaiser’s Manteca facility, plus the fact it isn’t part of a closed health insurance system the numbers are much more viable for Doctors Hospital.

There is still a little more than 16 years to the deadline.

Kaiser could obviously benefit from an influx of member growth in the South County and Stockton, which in turn could make a major investment in its existing Manteca hospital or at another one either in Manteca or a nearby central regional location pencil out.

Kaiser may indeed have no plans to close the hospital any time soon but the nurses are right. If there is a significant shifting of hospital services to Modesto it could set the stage for a very easy decision just a few years down the road.

I do not doubt for one second that the California Nursing Association is concerned about patient care within a community. I also am not naive enough to think they aren’t worried about protecting the jobs of their membership.

But in this case the two goals are intertwined.

Rest assured the Manteca Kaiser Hospital isn’t the only one of 480 California hospitals on the list that may not be financially feasible to save, especially if there is a nearby facility that can pick up the slack after the year 2030 arrives.

The CNA could flex its considerable statewide political muscle and organizing finesse to address an injustice that in turn would save not only facilities such as the Manteca Kaiser Hospital but also reduce future health care costs by hundreds of billions of dollars.

It needs to push for an amendment to the 1983 law that takes into account distinct earthquake zones in California.

A hospital in Modoc County or Truckee shouldn’t have to meet the same stringent standards as a hospital along the San Andreas Fault in Los Angeles or San Francisco. The current law essentially mandates over design in many parts of California including the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The United States Geological Society places the closest fault to Manteca some 10 miles away. It runs from Tracy through Central Stockton and ends near Linden. The USGS indicated the last appreciable movement was three million years ago. The federal earthquake experts believe the worst quake that the fault will produce is 5.0. There were several 4.0 quakes near Linden in 1940.

The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake was 6.9 on the Richter Scale. That was 19 times more powerful than the worst quake ever on the nearby fault in the heart of San Joaquin County in terms of shaking amplitude and 29 times stronger than the largest recorded quake.

The new Bay Bridge span, the pinnacle of new California seismic safety standards, is supposed to withstand a quake in the 7.2 to 7.3 area of the Richter Scale. It’s considered a 1,500-year event for the quake prone Bay Area.

That’s 33 times more powerful than the biggest recorded quake in San Joaquin County.

Designing a hospital in Manteca to withstand such a force makes about as much sense as requiring them to be able to take a direct hit from an asteroid.

Making a future for a Manteca Kaiser Hospital is going to take more than just pressure on Kaiser’s decision makers. It will require a sensible rewrite of the Hospital Facilities Seismic Safety Act of 1983 to reflect the fact there are distinct earthquake zones in California.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or (209) 249-3519.

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