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Sunday, Dec 16 2012 11:00 PM

ANOTHER VIEW: Kaiser Permanente no slouch when it comes to local giving

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    David Womack

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By DAVID WOMACK

Our mission at Kaiser Permanente is to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We are dedicated to improving access to medical care for everyone in Kern County. We are also concerned about the future supply of health care workers to care for our community. A recent article and subsequent editorial in The Californian ("Local medical providers must step up for KMC," Dec. 13) implied we are not doing our fair share. This is incorrect. I'd like for our community to understand the depth of our commitment to Bakersfield and Kern County.

Over the last five years, Kaiser Permanente awarded more than $1.35 million in grants to Kern Medical Center to improve specialty care access for Kern County's most vulnerable residents. As a result of our investment in the uninsured and underinsured, patients are receiving care in an expedited manner and are linked back to a medical home through the safety net clinic providers. In the same period, we provided Clinica Sierra Vista almost $400,000 to help meet the needs of their clients. This year, we distributed an additional $216,000 to other local organizations working to alleviate Kern County's most pressing health care issues. Last year, it was also over $200,000.

We have recruited 50 physicians from outside Kern County since 2009. These doctors moved here, raise their families here and provide much needed care to our community. We have hired some of KMC's Family Practice Residency graduates, thereby ensuring these doctors stay in Kern County.

To help grow future health care workers, we have supported Cal State Bakersfield nursing students with more than $63,000 of scholarships since 2010. We've made a three-year commitment to provide $15,000 of scholarships for CSUB social work students.

Each year, we conduct our Hippocrates Circle Program in collaboration with a local school. This program links junior high school students with medical professionals and exposes them to the exciting potential for careers in health care. We also work with the students' parents and CSUB to help these families plan for college. Sixty students have graduated from the program. In 2013, there will be 45 students from the east Bakersfield community enrolled and engaged with our medical professionals.

Kaiser Permanente funds and operates medical residency programs in Southern California. Several graduates from those programs now live and practice here in Kern County.

Our physicians and employees choose to volunteer their time and expertise to numerous service projects for our community. For example, one of our Permanente physicians has served as the doctor for the Bakersfield Homeless Center for many years. Another serves as the medical director for the Jesus Shack mobile health van. They both do this voluntarily with no pay.

Regarding the KMC consultant, we can find no record or recollection of a request to meet. When we learned of this rumor several weeks ago, we contacted the consultant via email and offered to arrange a meeting. To date, we have received no response. We are open to discussions. We have an established grant process that KMC has successfully used in the past.

The contributions Kaiser Permanente has made to the health of our community are significant. As a nonprofit corporation, we strive to maximize our contributions without driving up the cost of health care. We will continue to pursue this strategy and will continue to partner with local organizations to help solve our community's most urgent health care needs.

David E. Womack is the executive director of Kaiser Foundation Hospitals & Health Plan for Kern County. Kaiser Permanente serves more than 100,000 members in Kern County. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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