The saying is true: You get what you pay for. If the salaries that Kern Medical Center offered physicians were unusually low in comparison to other county hospitals’ pay, local patient care would undoubtedly suffer.
KMC doctors work hard for those salaries. Many work atrociously long hours, and when they’re not on the floor, they’re on call. Their jobs are not of the 9-to-5 variety. Not even remotely.
But those factors come into play at virtually every county hospital in the state. No such facility delivers superior medical care without compensating physicians and other medical professionals — professionals who work long hours, service dauntingly huge medical-school loans and work with little or no room for error. That’s the nature of the profession.
But somehow KMC is different, if its salaries are any evidence. Physicians’ pay at the east Bakersfield hospital is off the charts.
Based on 2012 figures, three KMC doctors are the three highest-paid county employees in all of California, far surpassing their counterparts in public hospitals where the cost of living is significantly higher.
The highest paid county employee in the state is KMC orthopedic surgeon Arturo Gomez, who earned about $1.04 million last year. No. 2 was Dr. Andrea Snow, who earned $828,287, and Chief of Surgery Dr. Maureen Martin, who earned $753,465.
No one questions their competence. Quite to the contrary: All are well-regarded. No one questions their commitment. But should a hospital in such dire financial straits — closure was one of the options on the table this past fall — be paying such salaries?
This is a hospital where lack of oversight by both KMC’s top executives and the Board of Supervisors allowed financial problems to fester into a multimillion-dollar hole.
With former CEO Paul Hensler at the helm, KMC miscalculated the anticipated reimbursements from state and federal sources for service to Medi-Cal and uninsured patients. The errors, undetected for eight years, cost the county a cumulative estimated $64 million.
Recovering from that position will require adjustments on a number of levels; physicians’ pay is hardly the lone culprit. The Board of Supervisors took an important step toward solvency when it handed over KMC’s near-40-year-old family practice residency program to Bakersfield-based Clinica Sierra Vista. Clinica offers a few advantages over KMC’s in-house management, not the least of which is a funding plan that should help the program operate more consistently in the black.
But to turn this ship around, new KMC CEO Russell Judd and his team must look at every aspect of the hospital’s operation. One not-insignificant facet is physicians’ compensation; another is a system that divides doctors’ time and loyalties between county work and separate private practice.
The patient is not well; everything must be on the operating table.