Kern County supervisors hired former Mercy Hospital executive Russell Judd on Tuesday to steer Kern Medical Center out of financial crisis.
"Go fix that place," Supervisor Leticia Perez told him.
Supervisor Mike Maggard said that he hopes people in the future look back on Tuesday's hiring of Judd as the point at which the hospital reversed course and moved away from financial ruin and closure.
Judd is taking the KMC chief executive officer job, Maggard believes, because saving the county-owned public hospital is a noble cause.
Judd will fill the spot vacated by former CEO Paul Hensler, who was fired in September after supervisors learned about an unexpected $64 million budget shortfall at KMC created by years of miscalculations by hospital financial staff.
"This isn't to make money. It isn't to take another step forward in a career. This is to fix something that absolutely has to be fixed," Maggard said.
"If I didn't have pressure before, I have it now," Judd quipped as he came to the podium to thank supervisors for the new job.
He said people want KMC to succeed.
The first thing people say to him about his new job, Judd said, is "Are you crazy?"
"After that conversation, they say, 'How can I help?'" he said.
County Administrative Officer John Nilon said Judd will be tasked in his first year with doing detailed analyses of KMC's financial and operational systems. The second year he would take the solutions further, Nilon said.
Under the contract, Judd will earn $366,000 of base pay annually, with the potential for his company to earn an additional $300,000 a year for meeting the performance goals Nilon mentioned.
In total, Judd's company, KMC Management Inc., could earn an annual maximum of $1.4 million including Judd's pay, that of two other employees and other business expenses.
While the goals for the first years are to evaluate the hospital's situation, Judd said that it won't take a year to begin making changes at KMC.
Solutions to problems will be launched when the problems are found, he said.
Observers expressed some concern about giving control of KMC to a private company, but said that the county and Judd can alleviate those fears by being committed to transparency and accountability.
Judy Garcia, an environmental service technician at KMC, spoke for Service Employees International Union, Local 521. She said the 1,000 employees the union represents at KMC are committed to making changes that improve the hospital's financial situation and protect the needs of the community.
But changes at KMC have to, she said, put the public first and include workers in the process of developing solutions.
"Cutting programs that serve thousands of families is a huge cost to the community, no matter what the savings are. Outsourcing jobs to the private sector undermines public oversight and accountability," she said, reading from a prepared statement.
Judd said his first job will simply be to spend time at the hospital and visit with staff and doctors and listen to their input.
The holidays, he said, are a great time to do that.
Bakersfield doctor Donald Cornforth said Judd will add a great deal of experience to KMC's management.
But he asked the county to make sure that a list of any shareholders and board of directors for Judd's company be made public and the community be assured that Judd has severed his financial relationship with Dignity Health -- his current employer -- to make sure there is no conflict of interest.
Dignity Health operates the Mercy Southwest and downtown Mercy hospitals.
Judd also introduced another new member of his staff, Scott Thygerson, a business development executive at Mercy Hospitals of Bakersfield.
"We're happy to have you here," Maggard told Judd and Thygerson. "We'll work you to the bone."
Supervisors also took action to allow Kern County to continue to spend money to renovate the new Kern County Animal Services shelter on Fruitvale Avenue under emergency conditions.
The decision continues to allow the county to avoid traditional bidding requirements in an effort to get the shelter renovation -- which has already cost more than $2.5 million -- finished.
Estimates for additional costs at the Fruitvale shelter were not available but major pieces of the project -- including septic systems, major paving, a livestock corral and medical facilties need to be worked on.
Supervisors also voted to ask the Kern County Employees' Retirement Association to adopt a formal process for looking at and investing in Kern County businesses as a way to boost the economy.
The KCERA organization manages the retirement investments for county and local government workers.