If Kern County Supervisors had ever considered snatching the near-40-year-old family practice residency program away from Kern Medical Center and sending it out to bid, the people of the southern San Joaquin Valley might have had some cause for concern.

But the plan they're exploring has almost none of that uncertainty: They're considering turning the program over to Bakersfield-based Clinica Sierra Vista, which has been delivering quality medical care to a population not unlike KMC's for decades -- while simultaneously managing to avoid red ink.

KMC's track record of educating doctors-in-training and encouraging them to stick around and set up their practices here has been pretty good, although there's room for improvement. Supervisors' main concern is that the KMC program is expensive to run, and with a $64 million cumulative shortfall from the hospital's previous administration to consider, along with the need to pare $6.5 million from the annual budget, something has to change.

Clinica Sierra Vista's offer to take over the program over a three-year transitional period alleviates those concerns. Clinica offers the best of all relevant worlds: It can run the program for much less money than KMC could, its reach throughout the southern valley is much wider than KMC's, and, perhaps most important, it has a solid track record of competent management and tight books.

The Clinica offer includes an important bonus, too: The family practice residency program, as operated under Clinica's auspices, would maintain a strong relationship with KMC.

Farming out the program in some sort of open bidding process wouldn't inspire the same level of confidence because no one else has Clinica's stability. You want durability and a sense of permanence? Today CEO Steve Schilling celebrates 40 years with the private, non-profit agency, which started out of a converted storefront warehouse and now has more than 30 clinics from Lebec to Fresno.

The proposed deal to transfer management of the training program comes before the Board on Tuesday. Clinica has received preliminary approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to create an 18-resident program. Now it's county supervisors' turn to seal the deal.