Hutt Hospital not only medical facility facing earthquake risk

Vandhna Bhan
Source: 1News

Hutt Hospital’s Heretaunga block isn’t the only earthquake prone medical building in the country, but it might be the only one taking precautionary measures to relocate all its services while they find a more permanent solution.

National’s health spokesperson Shane Reti last year questioned the health minister as to what were the 10 most earthquake prone hospital buildings.

Among the list that was given to Reti, and seen by 1News, was the boiler rooms/workshops at the Capital and Coast District Health Board (CCDHB) which had just a 6% seismic rating.

Taranaki Base Hospital had multiple blocks that rated at 10% and so did a few buildings at the Waikato DHB. West Coast’s Grey Hospital was at 12%. CCDHB’s limb and orthotics building was at 14% and so was Northland’s Day surgery units at Kaitaia Hospital.

Buildings below 34% in seismic rating are deemed earthquake prone and the ones listed here are rated as “very high risk”.

Taranaki DHB told 1News out of their buildings identified as earthquake prone, four are patient-facing hospital clinical buildings, one is an office building and three are underground tunnels that provide utility services across the site.

While no services have been relocated, the DHB says they are “proactively monitoring and managing these areas on a daily basis”.

According to the Building Amendment Act (2016), building owners in a medium earthquake risk region such as Taranaki are required to upgrade “priority” earthquake prone buildings within 12.5 years. The Taranaki DHB says they are well ahead of that timeline with redevelopment underway.

Over 200 patients will need to be relocated due to the main block at Hutt Hospital being earthquake prone.

But Reti is questioning why some DHB’s are choosing to relocate services and others are not.

“With Hutt Valley making the decision they have there needs to be just a double check is everyone safe, is this the new level, 15%? Regardless, there needs to be some consideration whether other steps need to be taken, I think this now sets a precedent,” says Reti.

The last time the Health Ministry took nationwide seismic ratings of DHB’s was in 2018 and while Hutt Valley DHB (HVDHB) submitted its seismic ratings there’s concerns it may not have been the most recent assessment of the buildings.

Hutt City Council told 1News they wrote to building owners of potentially earthquake-prone buildings in 2019, but it wasn’t till 2021 that HVDHB responded and decided to rely on 2011 Detailed Seismic Assessment.

The 2011 assessment was undertaken by Aurecon engineers who concluded that, “while the level of the building strength is relatively low, it is not considered to be earthquake prone”.

It goes on to say: “However, the nature of the failure mechanisms should be considered as we believe they could lead to sudden loss of capacity and possible collapse of parts of the structure. The mechanisms of concern are the bending failure of the columns at all levels in the longitudinal direction and the shear failure of the main walls in the transverse direction”.

Using that assessment provided by HVDHB the council deemed the Heretaunga building, which will now have to be relocated, as not earthquake prone in May 2021.

This assessment was accepted by the council due to MBIE guidance on recognising previous assessments.

National says that’s just not acceptable that HVDHB got away with presenting an outdated report.

“I think it is interesting as to MBIE's involvement and their acceptance of the 2011 report because we have to remember in 2016 we had Kaikoura, that should be a signal to everyone to do a double check. In 2017 the new seismic ratings came in and there were several time points along the way that should have said to the sector and to the government, we now need to re check and it doesn’t appear that’s been done,” says Reti.

The council only received a new draft Detailed Seismic Assessment from the HVDHB on May 17 2022 and they’re expecting the final assessment by the end of next week.

Wellington Emergency Department woes

On Friday, it’s also been revealed that the Wellington emergency department will have to be relocated “to a larger space within the Wellington Regional Hospital building” according to CCDHB.

The CCDHB’s Chief Executive Fionnagh Dougan has acknowledged seismic and other challenges for the emergency department and says active planning is underway to relocate the ED to a more fit for purpose area.

In a statement to 1News she says the emergency department has a 34% NBS seismic rating which is the new bare minimum for building standards in New Zealand. This means the building signals an earthquake risk rather than being earthquake prone.

““The existing ED was built in 1999, and extended in 2004. Since then, we have experienced significantly increased demand for services – often from patients with complex needs – and the size and layout of our ED is no longer fit for purpose,” says Dougan.

While Health Minister Andrew Little was today unable to provide detailed comment as to the wider situation he did tell 1News that he’s confident in the work Health NZ will do to mitigate such issues once it’s implemented in place of all DHB’s come July.

“Health NZ will have a dedicated infrastructure unit to manage all aspects concerning hospital buildings, and that will include responding to seismic assessments. The infrastructure unit will be assisted by an external advisory group and I am confident that all relevant expertise will be available to it,” says Little.