Kern County Board of Supervisors Increase Supervision of Kern Medical Center
The Kern County Board of Supervisors is "stepping up its oversight" of county-owned Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, as officials estimate the center will have a budget deficit of $8 million for the current fiscal year, the Bakersfield Californian reports (Terwilleger, Bakersfield Californian, 3/6). At a meeting Monday, board members "switched from their usual practice of approving most hospital resolutions without any discussion" and instead requested details on malpractice insurance, physician contracts and billing systems, according to the Californian (Terwilleger, Bakersfield Californian, 3/8). The county previously has loaned KMC $40 million for basic operating costs but this year will have less funding to help the hospital in part because of state budget cuts (Bakersfield Californian, 3/6). The board directed hospital personnel to consider ways to reduce malpractice insurance costs, including raising its deductible rate to reduce premium rates. The board also approved a proposal to hire physicians to staff a new infertility program that will provide services covered by Medi-Cal and the continuation of a contract with a consultant to try to increase revenue (Bakersfield Californian, 3/8).
KMC has not received $5 million in funds -- which state and federal agencies provide for hospitals that serve large numbers of Medi-Cal beneficiaries and other low-income patients -- from the 2002-2003 fiscal year. Al Diaz, financial officer for KMC, said that the center would not be running a deficit if the state disbursed the funds on time, adding that KMC is expected to qualify for about $18 million of the state/federal funding this year. Diaz said the hospital is "working to decrease its dependency on that pool of money" and has reduced the funds as a percentage of its operating budget from 60% to 40% over the past two years, the Californian reports (Bakersfield Californian, 3/6).
"Nothing but good should come from the closer understanding that can result from the face-to-face meetings" between the board of supervisors and hospital staff and management now that board has "correctly" begun holding meetings at the Kern Medical Center to discuss the hospital, a Bakersfield Californian editorial states. The current "financial woe" of the hospital is largely the result of major reductions and delays in federal and state payments for mandated services to low-income or uninsured patients, as well as "a too-long delayed increase" in Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, but county loans to KMC justify closer oversight by the board, according to the editorial. "All parties involved in the new meet-and-confer process should approach it affirmatively in hopes that it can help cure at least some of the hospital's financial ills," the editorial concludes (Bakersfield Californian, 3/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.