By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
After the fiscal year 2019 ended on June 30, the Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) is now in the process of reviewing the annual performance of its many departments. A year-end report on the Mountain View Health Center was presented to the KVHD Board of Directors at its monthly meeting on August 7. The news was good.
Even though many other KVHD departments had their difficulties this past year, the outpatient Health Center was a shining star. Not only was its remodel completed which modernized its look and added efficiencies, but its name reflected that upgrade by changing from the Rural Health Clinic to the Mountain View Health Center.
The Health Center is a medical facility used for outpatient doctor visits and telemedicine appointments. Manager Greg Davis reported that last year primary care accounted for 77 percent of its service provision. The remaining 23 percent were specialty services consisting of consultations in general surgery, podiatry, cardiovascular, and telemedicine. Telemedicine capabilities have recently been enhanced with new high speed broadband service, and give residents local access to the medical and behavioral specialties of endocrinology, neurology, psychiatry, and psychological counseling.
A new full-time primary care physician was recently added to the staff, for a total of two physicians and three physician assistants seeing patients there. Soon Kaiser Permanente patients will also be seen at the Health Center. A contract for these services was signed this past year, but the appointments have been on hold until Kaiser finalizes its administrative procedures to integrate their systems with those at KVHD. Mountain View Health Center medical providers will initially be seeing Kaiser patients for urgent care needs only, with primary care visits to be added at a later date.
A new mobile medical clinic is currently being built and will be an extension of Mountain View Health Center services. Beginning in a few months, the MobileCare clinic will travel to several school campuses and to other community locations to deliver primary medical care and psychology services.
Financially, the Health Center has consistently shown a profit, and ended the fiscal year with a $1.8 million surplus. An average of 75 visits per day generated nearly 19,000 visits for the year. An increase is expected in both patient volume and profit for the coming year. CEO Tim McGlew stated that July outpatient visits were nearly 1,800 which is thought to be the highest monthly volume ever reported.
The KVHD Emergency Department also performed well last year, ending 2019 with a surplus of $5.2 million. But year-end financials for KVHD as a whole did not fare as well, with the unaudited year-end financials ending June 30 with a net loss of $177,744. A significant part of this loss was due to consistently unused inpatient beds and a low number of residents at the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) for much of the year.
Occupancy has begun to increase at the SNF, and cooperation with Kern Medical Center may lead to their use of the SNF and also of KVHD acute beds as swing/transitional care beds for their own patients. Chief Nursing Officer Mark Gordon announced that KVHD has been awarded a grant to conduct an in-house training program for certified nursing assistants to meet staffing needs at the SNF.
KVHD has been receiving the same notices from SCE about possible power shut-offs as the ones being sent to local residents. In the event of an outage, generators run all life-sustaining equipment as required by code. A more robust generator system that can maintain every electrical need of the hospital, including air conditioning, is planned as part of the seismic remodel. If the FEMA grant request for those funds is denied, KVHD has a related cash reserve that can be used to add that capability on its own.
KVHD facilities sustained no damage from the recent earthquakes except one minor leak in a mechanical system that is no longer used. Nearby Ridgecrest Regional Hospital sustained major damage to its newly built seismically compliant patient tower which had to be closed down after it was flooded due to broken water lines. Its 60-year-old buildings withstood the earthquakes with no damage and will be reopened for acute care use until portions of their new building, including two emergency rooms, can be rebuilt. It appears that being in seismic compliance does not guarantee continual operation of hospitals after a natural disaster as was the intended purpose of the state seismic law.