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Medical workers union sues Kern Medical Center over funding transparency

Kern Medical, Bakersfield (FILE)
Posted at 4:28 PM, Oct 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-11 21:40:36-04

Kern Medical Center is the only Level II trauma center in Kern County, with many of its patients coming from underserved communities. Union workers at the hospital say KMC has been giving money to Kern Medical Surgery Center, LLC, a privately owned medical center. The workers say this flow of funding should be more transparent, and on Tuesday, a judge agreed with them.

“Prior to this victory, we didn’t know what was going on. It was basically a black box,” said George Pfister, the lead clinical nurse at KMC and a member of Service Employees International Union 521. “With the victory [attorney] Alex [Nazarov] got us, we can now look into what’s going on with these funds and make sure they are being properly used.”

Pfister says ensuring KMC funds continue to go towards programs and services intended for the underserved community in Kern County was his priority when he approached the SEIU about filing this lawsuit back in July.

“We’re actually seeing it going on. We literally saw items purchased with Kern Medical funds being sent to the LLC,” said Pfister. “We literally saw the transfers of good and services, so we actually helped with this case. We actually presented evidence.”

The lawsuit, originally filed on July 18th, 2022, alleges the public has a right to information about the operation of the Kern Medical Surgery Center, LLC, a privately owned medical center. It states that Kern Medical violated the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act by not being clear about how the organization is using public funds.

The lawsuit also lists the surgery center as a respondent alongside the hospital. Both Pfister and the attorney representing SEIU 521, Alexander Nazarov, say they still do not know what services the private entity provides, and the outcome the case Tuesday is a step toward learning that information.

“Today’s victory in court allows us to pursue that transparency and to get a better understanding of how the Kern County Hospital Authority is using this LLC, is using taxpayer funds to apparently provide boutique services that are out of reach of most indigent and underserved patients in Kern County,” said Nazarov. “We’re trying to see what this money is going towards.”

Nazarov adds that the next steps are for Kern Medical to provide the records they have for the funds so people can understand how the KMC and the private surgical center are working together.

“It’s against the law for the public entity to create a private entity that has no rational connection to the mission that it’s supposed to serve, and this is kind of a high standard,” said Nazarov. “Usually, you can find a rational connection, but based on everything we’ve seen, we don’t see one.”

With this victory, Pfister says the union has only one goal.

“We have a very important mission. We want to stay focused on that,” said Pfister. “Every cent that should be going to Kern Medical, should be going to Kern Medical.”

23ABC reached out to the Kern Medical Center, but we were told the hospital does not comment on pending litigation. We will provide updates both on-air and online as this situation develops.