Local Politics

Tuesday, May 20 2014 06:22 PM

Hospital authority bill clears Assembly -- with big changes

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    The first layoffs at Kern Medical Center were announced Thursday. The Board of Supervisors will decide next week whether to accept the proposed cuts of 51 jobs that are expected to save $5.7 million.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

A bill that would allow the creation of a hospital authority to run Kern Medical Center passed the state Assembly with major changes Monday.

But those changes -- which would transfer union contracts with the county to the new authority and shift all KMC's assets and liabilities over as well -- are not set in stone.

And the county, its largest employee union and the bill's author, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, expect to swap revisions to AB 2546 as it moves through the legislative process.

The county of Kern supports the legislation in concept.

In its current form, the bill would allow the Board of Supervisors -- if it so chooses -- to merge the county hospital with another "health care facility" and create an independent authority that would shoulder the fiscal burden that is Kern Medical Center.

KMC Chief Executive Officer Russell Judd said Tuesday he was unaware that the bill language had been altered or that the Assembly had voted to approve it.

But, he said, he doesn't feel the county has been left out of the process.

An attorney for the county is drafting the county's edits to the bill and Judd expects them to be moved into the legislation as it moves though the Senate.

Salas said he put the new language in the bill so it would pass the Assembly and maintain momentum behind it.

He said the bill will be modified as it goes forward but the county, the Service Employees' International Union and his office will all be part of shaping the final version.

The goal is to hammer out compromise language all parties can agree on and "save the hospital."

Last week's edits to the bill craft clear protections for SEIU, the union that Supervisor Leticia Perez has said is critical to getting AB 2546 approved by the California Legislature.

The authority would be required to honor the county's current contracts with the union.

The edits would also shift all KMC assets and liabilities -- including the debt to the Kern County general fund that hovers around $100 million and an average of $3 million in monthly losses -- to the new hospital authority.

But Perez said all of the language is within the general boundaries of what the county, the union and Salas hammered out when they launched the legislation.

"This thing will change multiple times and at the end of the day the county can choose to not create the authority," Perez said.

But for now the everyone is united behind the effort, she said.

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