Quake funds concern hospitals
Hawaii's public hospitals have received money for planning and design work to prepare for earthquakes, but that will help just part of the state's hospital system, says a Hawaii health official.
The biggest threat from a disaster is to nursing homes, Rich Meiers, Healthcare Association of Hawaii president and chief executive officer, added in an interview.
Meiers applauded the release of $750,000 by Gov. Linda Lingle to the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. for seismic hazard mitigation planning and design at the 12 state hospitals.
But he said he wished the Legislature would provide $2 million for an engineering firm to assess the structural integrity of all nursing homes and hospitals to withstand earthquakes and hurricanes.
"I've made it very blunt," he said. "We've tried now for three years (to get the funding), and if, God forbid, we are pummeled by an earthquake or hurricane and facilities aren't ready, and we've asked for some help to get the money ... it will look bad for legislators who didn't want to do this."
The Healthcare Association's Hawaii Disaster Medical Assistance Team members saw the devastation in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, he said.
Small residential health care facilities weren't built to withstand strong winds, he said. "We learned an awful lot and we learned we're not ready here, particularly our nursing homes, followed by hospitals."
Isle nursing home executives have said they don't know how their facilities would withstand a hurricane, he said. Most feel they would have to evacuate residents but there aren't enough special shelters for nursing home residents, he said.
An assessment of facilities would enable managers to determine if the facility could withstand a hurricane, depending on whether it was a Category 1, the weakest classification, or higher, he said.
The money Lingle released for the HHSC was part of a $2.5 million appropriation from last year's Legislature for seismic hazard mitigation at the public hospitals, said Ron Kurasaki, capital improvement project manager at the corporation.
Kurasaki said a planning report was prepared last April for the five Big Island state hospitals -- Hilo Medical Center, Hale Ho'ola Hamakua, Kau Hospital, Kona Community Hospital and Kohala Hospital.
"We want to start design work for those five hospitals to make corrections in the report," he said.
The Kona and Hamakua hospitals suffered the most damage in the Oct. 15, 2006, earthquake, with cracked walls and windows, falling ceiling tiles, ceiling grids, collapsed ceiling overhangs and other problems, Kurasaki said.
"We are concerned with hurricanes, too," Kurasaki added. But the corrections planned are to stabilize the hospitals in case of earthquakes, he said.
The mitigation study is expected to be done this September, and the design phase is scheduled for completion by next September.