KMC physicians will have to get own insurance

BY EMILY HAGEDORN, Californian staff writer

When Kern Medical Center’s OB/GYN physicians are not seeing county patients, they will not be protected under the county’s malpractice insurance.

On Tuesday, six physicians affiliated with the Kern Women’s Health Group received notice that the county will stop providing the insurance when the physicians are working outside the county hospital, such as at other hospitals or in their private practices, said interim KMC CEO David Culberson.

The letter gave them until Monday to find other insurance, but Culberson said this will likely be extended to 60 days.

Attorney Daniel Rodriguez, who is representing some of the physicians, wants this pushed back to 90 days. If the doctors are not able to find insurance before the deadline, they will likely have to close their private practices until they do, Rodriguez said.

“If they’re at Memorial Hospital delivering a baby, it’s their own malpractice coverage,” said County Supervisor Michael Rubio. “We should never expect the taxpayers of Kern County to take on the liability for physicians when they’re in their private practices. It’s not fair to the taxpayers or to the rest of the physicians at Kern Medical Center.”

Dr. Leonard Perez, Dr. R. Mark Root, Dr. Miguel L. Lascano and Dr. Deng Fa Fong could not be reached for comment. Dr. Antonio L. Garcia and Dr. Vasanthi Srinivas would not comment.

This action will not cost or save the county money because the county pays a blanket fee to cover all employees, Rubio said. But the county might have to pay if one of the doctors gets sued in their private practice.

The six physicians were the only KMC doctors to have this perk, he said.

Former KMC CEO Peter Bryan authorized this extension of coverage two days after the physician’s contracts were approved in 2005, Rubio said.

And while the contracts said the CEO could grant this, it also said the CEO could take it away, which is what Culberson did, Rubio said.

In an interview with The Californian in September, Bryan said the malpractice insurance was extended “with the intent of growing the business.”

It would encourage the physicians to open up private practices and steer those patients to KMC, Bryan said.

“It was in order to increase the number of access points patients could go to get care,” he said.

Rodriguez said the doctors may get to the point where they stop referring patients to KMC, which could cost the county.

“It’s going to get to the point where these doctors are going to say, ‘Screw you,'” he said.

Kern Women’s Health Group has been a source of debate among county supervisors for a few years. In December, the supervisors decided not to make the doctors pay back $176,361 that the county said they overpaid them.

And on Tuesday, supervisors eliminated a complicated network of pay and billing relationships with the group. Kern Women’s Health Group will now collect all their own fees for the services they provide rather than those fees being funneled through KMC’s general budget.

Other KMC news

The county’s contract with Sierra Pacific Anesthesia Medical Associates has expired, and the group, which includes 12 anesthesiologists at KMC, has given the hospital notice that it will stop providing services as of May 1, Culberson said.

The hospital has accepted a contract from Somnia Anesthesia Services, and there will not be a lapse in service, he said.
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