KMC employees concerned about layoffs

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) With layoffs looming at Kern Medical Center, hospital employees are wondering what's going to happen to them and the patients they care for.

"The services that we give to the community are given by people who are highly trained, have a scientific background, understand how to take care of people. That doesn't get done by robots," said Carmela Morales, a nurse practitioner at KMC.

Hospital employees represented by Service Employees International Union Local 521 met Wednesday to discuss how KMC's financial situation could affect them.

Hospital CEO Russell Judd said KMC continues to lose money every month. It posted a loss of $3.4 million for February and almost identical amounts in January and for December and November 2013.

Judd confirmed jobs are on the line.

"Layoffs are a real possibility," he said.

The primary source for revenue loss is because many people served by KMC do not have income and do not have the ability to pay for services, said Judd. And, KMC continues to struggle with billing practices. It is not recovering what it is owed.

Adding to the mix is the number of patients treated at KMC. Judd said the amount varies, and the number of staff have to match the number of patients served at the hospital.

"If patient volumes continue to decrease, the number of staff we need will decrease," said Judd.

KMC is owned and operated by Kern County and serves a large indigent population. It is an acute care teaching facility and is the only local hospital with physician resident training.

Employees fear layoffs will have a direct impact in the quality of health care for patients they serve.

"We do things here at KMC everyday that the rest of the hospitals in the county cannot do. They cannot do trauma care, they cannot do the orthopedic care," said Jeff Rockholt, a registered nurse for 28 years at the hospital.

It's unknown just how deep the cuts may be. As a result of the financial situation at KMC, other county departments have been asked to make a 5 percent cut in their budgets for fiscal year 2014-15.

"We don't know if we are facing an additional loss if the general fund may have to compensate for. And we are hoping, wishing, praying that we don't have to ask county departments to take an even greater cut than 5 percent," said Kern County Supervisor Leticia Perez.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors will have an open session at its meeting May 12 to get input from the public on the financial situation at KMC.