MISSION HILLS : 35 Cracks Found in Steel Hospital Beams

Engineers inspecting Holy Cross Medical Center have discovered 35 cracks in steel support beams, but hospital officials say most of the breaks are minor and pose no immediate danger to patients or staffers.

Holy Cross began inspecting the beams on its own initiative after widespread discussion of cracks in steel-frame buildings caused by the Northridge earthquake, said Allene Nungesser, the hospital's executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Using an ultrasound device, engineers have examined more than half of the 400 joints in the building's steel frame, she said. The inspection will be followed by repairs that will take about six to eight weeks and cost $2 million to $3 million.

Nungesser said the hospital, which has 209 acute-care beds and 58 skilled nursing and other beds, decided to remain open during the inspection and repair work because the cracks pose no immediate threat to patients or staff.

The facility is one of only two trauma centers in the San Fernando Valley, she noted, and serves about 23,000 people in its emergency room each year.

Engineers for the hospital and the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development are examining the building on a daily basis, she said, and it will be closed if they determine that the cracks are more serious than is now believed.

Holy Cross was closed for seven days after the Jan. 17 quake, which inflicted $15 million to $20 million in damages on it, mostly to medical equipment and internal fixtures. The hospital was built after the 1971 Sylmar quake heavily damaged a hospital on the same site, forcing its demolition.

Nungesser said only three of the 35 cracks are serious, measuring about a quarter of an inch across. The rest, she said, "varied from hairline to less severe, more in the moderate range."

Janice Ploeger, a spokeswoman for the state health planning office, said inspectors have viewed the cracks and agree that there is no need to evacuate the hospital.

"Our guys were down on the site and agreed with the facility that repairing it while patients were in it was appropriate," said Ploeger, noting that her office has the authority to order an evacuation.

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