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By Casey Christie / The Californian
BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
By the end of September, Kern County’s loan to its troubled hospital will balloon to $125 million, the Board of Supervisors learned Tuesday.
And things aren’t likely to get better from there.
In a worst-case scenario, Kern Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Sandra Martin told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, the county hospital could need another $30 million on top of the $125 million in coming months.
The mess at KMC also has put the county on shaky footing with the financial ratings agency that watches pension obligation bonds.
Fitch Ratings put the county on a watch list, essentially a warning that its confidence in the county could be downgraded if it doesn’t take immediate action to stabilize its budget and maintain its ability to pay its pension obligation bonds.
If other credit agencies follow suit and actually downgrade Kern’s credit rating, it could put a crimp on the county’s ability to borrow money at low interest rates.
The problem is the hospital’s operating loan from the county general fund.
When Kern Medical Center is doing poorly, the rest of the county must sacrifice to keep the hospital afloat.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon told supervisors that the county will re-open its budget next Tuesday and divert funds to cover a series of shortfalls in hospital revenue, unexpected debts to the state of California and other financial maladies at KMC.
The county, said Nancy Lawson, assistant CAO for budget and finance, can weather the storm for now.
And Nilon will really steer the ship. Supervisors named him interim CEO of Kern Medical Center Tuesday afternoon after firing then-chief Paul Hensler last week.
Nilon will do both gargantuan jobs — CAO and CEO — but his pay won’t change.
Tuesday’s discussion with hospital CFO Martin will be one of many. She is scheduled to give the same report to supervisors at every weekly meeting they hold in the future.
Supervisors dealt with part of the pain Tuesday by voting to send $12.1 million to the state. The state overpaid Kern County by around $4 million during a recent transaction.
State officials have asked for that money back.
But, to balance the state books, the county must send all of the $12.1 million back to the state by next week.
Then the state will cut the county an $8 million check, which will likely get back to Kern County in late October or November, Martin said.
Supervisor Mick Gleason was concerned about all the money moving around.
"We've got to pay $12 million so we can correct a $4 million" mistake, Gleason said. "Are they (the state) making interest on that?”
"I would assume so, sir," Martin said.
"Everybody seems to make interest on all this money that is going around but us," Gleason complained.