By Debbie Teofilo
Special to the Sun
Local Kaiser Permanente members have waited a long time to hear this welcome news: They will now be able to receive outpatient health care within the Kern River Valley (KRV). Kaiser members can make appointments with Kern Valley Healthcare District (KVHD) medical providers at the Mountain View Health Center in Mountain Mesa rather than having to travel to Bakersfield to be seen at a Kaiser facility.
At its meeting on March 6, KVHD board members voted unanimously to approve a 2-year renewable health care services agreement with Southern California Permanente Medical Group. The agreement was signed by KVHD CEO Tim McGlew the following day with local services expected to begin within weeks.
There are approximately 1,500 Kaiser members living within the KRV and another 300-500 residing in the Ridgecrest area who will now be eligible to make their primary care appointments at Mountain View Health Center rather than driving to Bakersfield. Kaiser was originally planning to lease space from KVHD while using their own medical providers, but the limited number of hours of service for such a small number of patients did not warrant the rental and staff expense. Instead, Kaiser worked out the current agreement which pays KVHD to directly provide primary health care services to Kaiser members.
KVHD has been providing physical therapy and occasional diagnostic services to Kaiser members for quite some time on a separate ancillary contract. It is anticipated that this contract will be expanded so pre-approved imaging and laboratory services can be obtained locally by members who receive their primary care from KVHD providers. It is likely that a 30-day supply of medications could also be filled locally as needed to give members time to purchase additional refills through Kaiser.
KVHD will be increasing its revenue by serving Kaiser patients, but Board Director Charlie Busch remarked that it is the KRV Kaiser enrollees themselves who are the big winners in this arrangement while KVHD continues to focus on its mission of serving the healthcare needs of all district residents.
Another urgent need within the district is modernizing the hospital emergency room (ER). A plan to meet that goal was originally designed as part of a larger seismic remodel of the entire hospital, but the public tax bond to help fund it failed at the polls in November. KVHD is now attempting to fund a remodel of just the ER and imaging areas without the need for a public tax.
To do this, it has requested that USDA consider granting KVHD a loan of $16 million instead of the $28 million loan it had previously approved for the full seismic construction. KVHD would use $8 million to construct the ER and imaging center remodel. The other $8 million would pay off its prior Cal-Mortgage loan which would free up all hospital assets as collateral for the USDA loan.
In the meantime, KVHD is working with other hospitals, a RAND Corporation research project, and local legislators with the goal of modifying the California seismic legislation requirements to reduce the financial burden on small rural hospitals. One idea for these hospitals is to develop a mobile clinic capability so patients can be treated in areas with the most need after an earthquake, rather than funding much more expensive ‘brick and mortar’ construction requiring patients to travel to one hospital location for service after a disaster.
CFO Chet Beedle reported that January financials showed a net profit for KVHD of $139,899. The Board of Directors approved Fiscal Year 2020 budget assumptions so the Finance Department can begin preparation of a detailed budget for later approval by the board.
Outstanding accounts payable to vendors was reduced to 45 days by the end of January, well below the hospital industry standard of 60, by using cash funds from reserves at the request of the Board of Directors. Beedle stated that the outstanding days will likely rise again in the future since it takes months for KVHD to get paid for their services and cash reserves are not always available. The Board will continue to review outstanding accounts payable each month to control timing of vendor payments.
The Board of Directors elected not to increase board member compensation rates or make any other changes as allowed by new state law AB 2329. New medical provider agreements at Mountain View Health Center were approved for Sarah Lopez, DO, as Medical Director and Carlos Montes, MD as Physician.
The Jeanette Rogers-Erickson Heart Walk held on February 23 raised over $4,000 for the Hospital Foundation. The event included a first-ever team of walkers made up of residents from the Skilled Nursing Facility as a way to show appreciation for their new transport van which was funded in part by prior Heart Walk proceeds.
Other announcements made during the meeting included a commendation of the KVHD Housekeeping Department for a large increase in patient satisfaction scores in their area of service. The Board expressed appreciation to the public for its consistently higher participation in KVHD meetings and issues.
The next monthly KVHD Board of Directors meeting will be held on Wednesday, April 3 at 6:00 p.m. in the Hospital Administrative Conference Room. The public is encouraged to attend. The meeting can also be watched streaming live on the KVHD Facebook page or by viewing a videotape after the meeting on kvhd.org.