Local News

Monday, May 12 2014 05:55 PM

KMC public hearing mixes emotions with facts

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Kern Medical Center on 1700 Mt. Vernon Avenue and Flower Street.

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BY STEVE LEVIN Californian staff writer slevin@bakersfield.com

By rough count, there were 38 people attending Monday's Kern County Board of Supervisors' public meeting about Kern Medical Center, or one for every $750,000 the hospital will lose during the current fiscal year.

And that was kind of the point.

The people who came to the Kern County Administrative Center were there because of KMC's continued hemorrhaging of county money. But they were also there because KMC provides services unavailable elsewhere in Kern.

The 222-bed hospital treats 120,000 patients annually and has 1,400 employees. It's the only trauma hospital within 100 miles, has in-patient psychiatric care with a 24-bed locked unit, trains more than 100 residents and 200 medical students annually, and is the only academic medical center in the county.

Perhaps most critical, the 147-year-old hospital serves as the county's safety net, in essence, the county's hospital of last resort.

"We help the whole community no matter what our financial stake," said Beverly Langella, KMC's health information supervisor, who spoke during the 30 minutes allotted for public discussion.

Yet even in a best-case scenario, as Sandra Martin, KMC's chief financial officer, explained to the supervisors, the hospital will lose $11 million during the 2014-15 fiscal year. A bright spot, Martin said, "if all the stars and planets align," is that the hospital could earn up to $12 million more in revenue next fiscal year.

At one point during the meeting, Martin discussed the possibility of the hospital pleading hardship on some bills. It was oddly comforting to hear that, like calling about a late car loan payment.

Still, millions being millions, some speakers were more interested in the bottom line.

"This is the first time I can remember there's been a serious review of what goes on at KMC since I've been here," said Wayne L. Deats Jr., a board member of Kern Health Systems.

David Huff congratulated the supervisors for "taking the initiative" to resolve KMC's financial problems.

"This community deserves the best in access," said Huff, a healthcare consultant. "It certainly hasn't gotten it from the county hospital."

He went on to say the hospital was "dirty" and that no one, given a choice, would choose KMC. At that point, Supervisor Leticia Perez interrupted.

She took her son to the KMC emergency room two weeks ago, Perez said, "with blood gushing out of his head" and got "excellent care."

"I choose to go there," Perez said.

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