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Following the California Northridge earthquake, California passed hospital seismic safety legislation.Senate Bill 1953. It was introduced on February 25, 1994 and signed into law on September 21, 1994. The law establishes a seismic safety building standards program for California hospitals built after March 7, 1973.

By January 1, 2030, owners of all acute care inpatient hospitals are required to demolish, replace, or change to nonhospital use, all hospital buildings that are not in substantial compliance, or seismically retrofit them so that they are in compliance with the standards. With roughly seven years left to comply, it is estimated that nearly two-thirds of California hospitals have yet to meet 2030 requirements, according to the Hospital Association.

According to a 2007 RAND study, the law was very controversial. Because of the age and engineering of the California hospital infrastructure, it is projected that the seismic safety goals will require reconstruction of about 50 percent of the current hospital floor space.The 2007 report said that the “pace of SB1953 compliance has been slow. Based on historical rates of construction and permit filings with the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD), about half of the SPC-1 hospital infrastructure will not comply with the 2008/2013 deadlines for SB1953, and many may not be able to comply with the final 2030 deadline.

This backstory leads to a story just published by the Los Angeles Times about a “Backroom deal broken to change earthquake standards in California hospitals collapses.”

According to the Times, a secretive deal between a group of hospitals seeking to weaken seismic upgrades at medical centers and an influential union looking to increase the pay of employees collapsed on Tuesday, just days after it was made public.

“The last-minute alliance between Service Employees International Union-United Healthcare Workers West and the California Hospital Assn. infuriated other unions, which accused the unlikely pair of making a backroom deal that skirted the legislative process and put patients, healthcare workers and communities at risk.”

In a hospital association memo obtained by The Times, the group said the deal with SEIU-UHW came together quickly and followed years of stymied attempts to delay a state law that requires hospital buildings to have earthquake upgrades by 2030. Hospitals estimate that those upgrades will cost $100 billion, a tab they say is likely to result in closures across the state.

Before the deal emerged, the hospital association and SEIU-UHW had been locked in a fierce battle over raising the minimum wage in Los Angeles County for hospital workers. The agreement between the two would have required lawmakers to sign off on the deal before the end of the legislative session Aug. 31.

The California Hospital Assn. sought a seven-year delay to the 2030 requirement and to limit the standards to hospital buildings that provide emergency services, according to a draft of the proposal obtained by The Times.

In exchange, unions would see the minimum wage for healthcare workers raised to between $19 and $24 an hour beginning Jan. 1, with the higher pay going to workers in counties designated as urban or semi-urban. Pay would have increased by $1 an hour in 2024, bringing the hourly minimum wage for some workers to $25.

SEIU-UHW on Tuesday accused the hospital association of walking away from “a conceptual agreement” over labor-related provisions. In response, the union announced that it would instead pursue the statewide minimum wage for healthcare workers that it sought in the deal through the state Legislature or a ballot measure.