Buy Photo

Casey Christie / The Californian

Kern Medical Center.

More than $1.2 million in payments are being withheld from Kern Medical Center coffers by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Kern County supervisors were told Tuesday.

The reason: The county hospital missed an April deadline to get certification to provide care to beneficiaries of the federal health care program.

Kern Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Sandra Martin told supervisors she found out about the mistake earlier this week and requested approval to submit the application and start the flow of money again.

"It should have come to you as a routine administrative item a long time ago," Martin said.

She said that the notice about the need to file the paperwork was addressed to "Kern County" instead of specifically to KMC. But staff should have known the issue was coming.

Martin said they confirmed the notice was sent to Kern County but there isn't any indication of who got it or why it wasn't acted on.

"I cannot comment on why this was not done as a standard item," Martin said.

Supervisor Leticia Perez asked Martin how many similar situations exist, and how much these surprises are costing KMC and Kern County.

"Your worries are my worries," Martin answered.

She said she is going to do a full inventory of all KMC's payors to make sure the hospital can draw down the money it is owed.

Supervisors thanked Martin and accepted her assurances.

But their ire with the management of the county hospital's finances has been rising and sparked a troubled exchange with hospital CEO Paul Hensler last week.

They balked at his request for a massive increase in the size of the operating loan from the Kern County general fund that the hospital relies on to handle large fluctuations in its cash flow.

Martin said Hensler was unable to attend the meeting because he was undergoing surgery at KMC.

Martin told supervisors Tuesday that she is aggressively pursuing a number of short-term solutions to improve Kern Medical Center's cash flow.

One idea is to hire contractors to fight payment denials.

"You have to fight those. You can't just say, 'OK. They're not going to pay,'" Martin said.

Other ideas include asking uninsured payments who come to the emergency room to pay something -- anything -- to cover the cost of their medical care.

"Even if we ask people for a dollar," Martin said.