Health

Monday, Jun 09 2014 06:16 PM

County supervisors cheer KMC-KHS merger

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield on Mt. Vernon Avenue.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Nobody is throwing up roadblocks to the creation of the Kern County Health System Authority.

Yet.

Kern County supervisors -- on a 3-0 vote -- approved a plan to merge Kern Medical Center with Kern Health Systems Monday, linking the county-owned hospital with the 150,000-member Medi-Cal insurance manager.

Supervisors cheered the concept.

Unions hailed the idea as a "smart move" that will lower costs and improve patient care.

And speakers from Kern Health Systems, though a little miffed at being informed of the idea only recently, said the concept could move the county toward a better model of patient care.

COOPERATION

Rosie Kidwell, a KMC employee for 23 years, said that the Service Employees International Union, Local 521 front-line workers working with Judd have shown that they can succeed in making improvements at the hospital.

Doug Hayward, CEO of Kern Health Systems, said KMC, Omni Family Health and Clinica Sierra Vista take care of 75,000 Kern Health Systems members,

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for this county to move toward a system that is certainly more cost-effective," Hayward said.

The system could also make it possible to better serve Kern County's most disadvantaged citizens. But, he said, the only way to move forward is to cooperate.

"Call me up. Get me involved. Put me at that table," Hayward urged supervisors.

After the meeting, Hayward and KHS board member Tim McGlew said they have many unanswered questions about how the new agency would be governed, how it would work and -- most importantly -- how KHS's 75,000 other members would maintain access to their current doctors and hospitals.

KMC CEO Russell Judd said all those questions will be answered as the process moves forward.

Kern Health Systems and Kern Medical Center both exist, Judd said, to serve the safety-net providers and improve the health of the community's poor and disabled.

But, he said, the authority will have to work with all community physicians and other hospitals.

Judd said a bill by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, would create the opportunity for Kern County supervisors to draft an ordinance that would create the authority. That's when supervisors' do-or-die vote on the authority will actually take place.

WORK TO DO

Questions about who will run the authority and what will happen to the county general fund loan propping KMC up are among the many issues not yet ironed out, Judd said.

They will be answered as formal committees that include the County Administrative Office, Kern Medical Center, Kern Health Systems and consultants work together over coming months to craft the deal.

McGlew asked why that group was kept in the dark until recently.

"Nobody has yet talked to Kern Health Systems," he said.

Judd said the idea had to come to the Kern County Board of Supervisors first.

"This matter has evolved very quickly," Supervisor Leticia Perez said.

The Kern Health Systems board will consider the concept Thursday.

Perez thanked Judd for his hard work to make the idea happen and cheered SEIU, Local 521 for working closely with Judd to move the idea forward.

But the serious news out of Kern Medical Center does not end with the hospital authority.

PROGRESS

Kern Medical Center, Judd reported, has shrunk staffing by the equivalent of 126 full-time jobs -- a 9.8 percent drop -- since February without laying anyone off.

The progress is currently saving the hospital $619,429 in every two-week pay period.

Judd said the final piece of the picture -- layoffs -- will be on next week's Board of Supervisors agenda.

Kern Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Sandra Martin shared some other good news.

Efforts to increase revenue and decrease costs have cut an average $3 million monthly loss at the hospital down to $370,502 in April.

She said the staffing cost decreases, better billing and collections practices and a decrease in customers who don't pay -- thanks to insurance made possible by the Affordable Care Act -- helped KMC's bottom line that month.

Andree Campa, supervisor of the Medi-Cal billing unit at KMC, read an email talking about the improvements in the county's financial office.

She has seen more improvement, she said, in the past few months than she has in her 13 years at KMC.

"These past three months have been, how do I say it, what I've wanted to see for a long time," Campa told supervisors.

"April was a good month," Martin said.

But one month of good news did not offset a bad year and supervisors will be asked to approve an increase in the county's contribution to KMC's bottom line of $12.8 million.

By the end of June, the balance of the operating loan from the county to KMC is expected to be down to $82 million.

Supervisor Mike Maggard was on vacation and Supervisor David Couch, Perez announced, had informed her that something had come up and he would not be able to attend the meeting.

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