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NEW LEASE ON LIFE GROUNDBREAKING TODAY FOR HOSPITAL.

Byline: Evan Pondel Staff Writer

PANORAMA CITY - Kaiser Permanente will break ground on its new $267 million hospital in Panorama City today - a scenario considered unlikely several years ago when plans were almost scrapped because of structural issues.

The new 218-bed facility will stand adjacent to Kaiser's decades-old Panorama City Medical Center, a facility that seemed destined for closure when administrators learned six of its floors needed structural upgrades to meet state-mandated building standards by 2008.

Rather than close the hospital, Kaiser officials decided to build a new facility - because closure would have meant the largest not-for-profit health organization in the nation risked losing more than $60 million in federal emergency funds, according to Rep. Howard Berman, D-Van Nuys.

``It would have been devastating if the hospital closed. People could have lost their jobs and the community would have lost a major hospital,'' Berman said. ``Once we let them (Kaiser) know what was at stake, they changed their mind 180 degrees.''

Other communities are also in jeopardy of losing hospitals because of the costs of complying with new seismic standards. Almost 95 percent of the hospitals in California will need seismic upgrades in the next five years that could cost $24 billion, said Jim Lott, executive vice president of the Hospital Association of Southern California.

``The upgrades touch almost every hospital in the state and many are incurring indebtedness to do this,'' he said. ``Some groups like Kaiser are in a better position for upgrades because of their access to capital. Other stand-alone hospitals are struggling, and we are looking at the strong possibility of shrinkage in the market directly related to new seismic requirements.''

At a time when budget constraints have resulted in the closure of hospitals throughout Los Angeles, losing Kaiser in Panorama City would have left at least 250,000 members without convenient access to care. Nearby Granada Hills Community Hospital closed its doors this summer, and a growing number of uninsured patients continues to chip away at Los Angeles County's emergency medical system.

``But we have a long-term connection with the community here,'' said Jane Finely, director of the hospital operations. ``And our new hospital tells the community that we are committed to being here.''

The 404,000-square-foot, six-story facility is scheduled for completion by summer 2007. Kaiser is in the process of deciding what to do with the current 375,000-square-foot facility.

Despite the new hospital's larger size, it will have about 40 fewer beds than the old facility. Finely said census studies show that about 120 beds are generally occupied at the hospital. The extra space will be devoted to more private inpatient rooms that are designed to better accommodate patients' family members.

Among other amenities, the new hospital will have an automated medical record system, flat-panel monitors in offices, exam and operating rooms, and a high-level neonatal intensive care unit. The building's exterior will combine plaster with metal panels and a glass curtain wall.

``As a structural engineer, I would feel comfortable being in this building if an earthquake struck,'' said Dan Carney, the project director.

The proposed hospital will also meet seismic safety standards for 2030 - a characteristic that was imperative to move the project forward. Carney said the present hospital was in need of ``so many (seismic) upgrades, that it became more cost effective to replace the structure.''

The old hospital, noted for its binocular-like towers, was the brainchild of Henry Kaiser. The facility opened in 1962 and though there are several hospitals in the area, Finely said Kaiser rarely has competition.

``We are a bit different than other hospitals because we are health plan, too. It's the full package here, whereas other hospitals have contracts with many insurers,'' Finely said. ``I know I may sound like I bleed a little Kaiser blue, but I do.''

Evan Pondel, (818) 713-3662

evan.pondel(at)dailynews.com

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2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) The parking lot in front of Kaiser's hospital at Willard Street and Woodman Avenue in Panorama City will be the site for a six-story building that meets California's seismic safety standards to 2030. Groundbreaking is scheduled for today.

(2 -- color) Kaiser's proposed 218-bed hospital will be adjacent to the old Panorama City facility. The new structure is larger but will contain about 40 fewer beds.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 14, 2003
Words:720
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