Clinica Sierra Vista will assume KMC residency program

Clinica Sierra Vista will assume KMC residency program

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Saying the county must find more cost savings for Kern Medical Center, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to end KMC's family medicine residency program.

They approved supporting a new family practice residency program at Clinica Sierra Vista, with the KMC program being phased out over about two years. Leticia Perez was the only supervisor to vote against the change.

"The status quo cannot continue," Supervisor Zack Scrivner said. "This is a high-quality program that's hemorrhaging millions of dollars every year."

From the KMC program, Dr. Navin Amin said he's disappointed in the board's action, but it comes down to dollars. "Clinica is going to get a better reimbursement as far as the patient visit is concerned and they will be getting more reimbursement per resident," he told Eyewitness News.

Clinica CEO Steve Schilling says that's because as a new program, his organization qualifies for new Teaching Health Center funding under the Affordable Care Act.

"There was this unique opportunity to draw down a larger amount of federal funds," he explained, saying KMC's rate was "frozen." 

However, that funding could end by September 2015. The program will provide three years of training for the student doctors. Schilling said he thinks there's a pretty good chance the funding will be continued, but others have concerns.

If the money dries up, the county will be on the hook to backfill the funds. Schilling said the first year of Clinica's program. the county would contribute $523,000 to help cover expenses. That year the THC funds will total $900,000.

In the other years, Schilling says even if the THC funds are not continued, the county would kick in at most about $2 million. He says that's much better than the $3.6 million the program loses per year under the KMC program.

Supervisor Leticia Perez voted against the change over to Clinica. "I don't believe numbers tell the whole story," she said. "Nor do I believe that we've been given all the numbers that we need to make this decision adequately at this time."

She's disappointed the two programs have been "pitted against" each other, and worries about funding Clinica is depending on.

Supervisor David Couch calls the change the only responsible choice. "This is not a fun situation," he said. "I don't enjoy being in it." He says the handwriting was on the wall several years ago that something needed to change with the KMC family medicine residency program.

Clinica CEO Steve Schilling said they will train 18 residents, just as the KMC program has been doing. He also said students will spend a lot of time at KMC, while also putting in hours at their clinics. 

"I think we took a step today to guarantee the survival of graduate medical education in our county for a growing population over the next many decades," Schilling said.

The KMC family medicine residency program has been in place since 1976.

Supervisor Mike Maggard said the change is a necessary reform at KMC. "We cannot sustain a $50,000 a day loss at that hospital." he said. Maggard called changes to the residency program the next, first step in a long process of discussions and changes.