3 Hospitals to Receive $459 Million in Quake Aid

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will announce today $459 million more in quake repair and seismic upgrade grants for Los Angeles-area hospitals, bringing the total announced in just the last week to $833 million, sources said Monday.

The UCLA Medical Center is slated to receive $294.4 million, St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica $133.5 million and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in West Los Angeles $30.9 million.

These figures are on top of a $409.9-million federal and state aid package announced Friday--including FEMA grants of $373.8 million--for the County-USC Medical Center.

In most respects, the grants are far below amounts the hospitals originally requested from the government for rebuilding in the wake of the 1994 Northridge earthquake. UCLA, for instance, asked for $935 million and County-USC more than $1 billion.

One source familiar with negotiations between the hospitals and FEMA said UCLA was the last to settle with FEMA, and did so quite reluctantly.

A UCLA spokeswoman declined to comment on today's anticipated announcements.

But a spokesperson for one of the hospitals said administrators are generally pleased with the grants and have closely cooperated with FEMA in the planned announcement.

FEMA will announce the new grants at a Washington news conference at noon Los Angeles time.

The announcement will bring to an end a protracted evaluation process that strained the patience of federal, state and local officials.

In all four cases, the total cost of the rebuilding project will exceed that of the federal grants. The state will contribute 10% of the project cost in the cases of the public hospitals, but not St. Johns and Cedars-Sinai, which are private.

Sources said the total cost will be $426.1 million at County-USC, $335.6 million at UCLA, $150.7 million at St. Johns and $35.1 million at Cedars-Sinai. The private hospitals will ante up the difference between the federal grant and the total cost.

The grants amount to a compromise, as noted in a March 7 letter to the Board of Supervisors by Los Angeles County's chief administrative officer, Sally R. Reed.

Reed said that for many months the facilities have remained unrestored "as differing judgments on the scope of damage and necessary repairs elongate the process."

In some cases, she noted, appeals had been filed challenging FEMA damage estimates.

On the other side, FEMA officials suggested that in some cases Los Angeles officials had exaggerated quake damage to obtain a federal windfall.

Last year sniping escalated between federal and state officials and threatened to become an issue between the Democratic Clinton administration and the administration of Republican Gov. Pete Wilson.

At the time, Wilson was running for the GOP presidential nomination. He has since dropped out of the race.

But with the presidential election approaching, and California having by far the greatest number of electoral votes in that election, the Clinton administration was reportedly eager to resolve the issue in an acceptable compromise.

"In an apparent effort to resolve these differing judgments and delays," Reed explained in her letter, FEMA is awarding the grants under its Seismic Hazard Mitigation Program to lessen damage costs to the federal government from future quakes by taking steps to make buildings safer now.

Subsequently, FEMA will compile a final Damage Survey Report, with funds provided only as the work progresses.

This was the procedure, observers noted, for the FEMA funding of repairs two years ago at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. There, an audit has only recently been completed to determine the final amount of federal funding.

Hospital damage was one of the most dispiriting aspects of the Northridge earthquake, leading to recommendations in a state Seismic Safety Commission report last year that the state revise its procedures for overseeing hospital safety.

Altogether, the new grants mean that contributions from all federal government agencies in the wake of the Northridge earthquake will exceed $13 billion.

In addition, private insurance payouts are an estimated $12.5 billion.

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