A new chief executive has taken the reins of Kern County’s largest health plan in hopes of reducing barriers to medical treatment for the county’s poor while working with other local organizations to address homelessness and improving mental health care.
New Kern Health Systems CEO Emily Duran, who grew up a Medi-Cal recipient in Delano and the daughter of immigrant farmworkers, has predicted big changes to come as she prepares to take over from the outgoing CEO Doug Hayward to retire on July 6 after a decade of hard work.
Its focus will remain on the Medi-Cal plan administrator’s existing priorities, she said, but there will be new approaches to how KHS fulfills its mandate through greater local collaboration and access. in the capial.
“Our role and involvement will change dramatically,” she said in an interview this week at the KHS’s four-story headquarters on Buck Owens Boulevard.
She supports the county’s Kern Family Health Care managed care plan, which has more than 333,000 members, at a time when Medi-Cal organizations face significant challenges. The state government is calling for a more holistic approach to care – even without giving health plans greater authority over things like dental and mental health care.
At the same time, the lifting of the national health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could disqualify some people from eligibility for treatment, which Duran says has raised concerns that some of its current members will switch to through the gaps.
Established by the County Board of Supervisors in 1993 as an independent public agency funded entirely by Medi-Cal payments, KHS has grown rapidly in recent years as more county residents turn to it. which is the main public safety net option for health care.
The organization’s membership has jumped 36% in the past five years, while its revenue has grown just over double to $1.3 billion. Its direct employment has increased by about a third over this period, and the number of primary care providers it hires has increased by 53%.
KHS board members, after voting unanimously in favor of Duran’s appointment, welcomed her as a skilled professional knowledgeable about the local community and dedicated to helping its most vulnerable.
Duran understands what needs to be done and she has a deep understanding of the community itself, said board member Tim McGlew, who is also CEO of Kern Valley Healthcare District.
KHS board member Jeff Flores said he supports Duran’s ideas to focus on transportation and other ways to reduce barriers to health care. Flores added that he agrees with his approach to enrolling more residents with mental illnesses or addictions.
Duran received a bachelor’s degree in public policy and administration from Cal State Bakersfield, then earned a master’s degree in health care management. She worked at Clinica Sierra Vista before joining KHS, where she has worked for over nine years.
One of his priorities as CEO will be tackling social determinants like affordable housing and child care, encouraging people to keep medical appointments and making sure they can get to their homes. the doctor and back, she said.
Part of that will involve doing more to address housing issues, which can be accomplished not by ‘reinventing the wheel’, she said, but by bringing significant public funds to the community that KHS has access to. .
It’s a significant change from years past, when the operation was primarily focused on connecting health plan subscribers with doctors and medical specialists, she said. Now, achieving KHS’s goals will require better coordination with local organizations with a role in helping the poor, she said, such as the provision of mental health care by Kern Medical.
Kern Medical CEO Scott Thygerson, who is also a KHS board member, noted that the two organizations have worked together in recent years to coordinate patient care and make it more efficient, especially for people requiring medical treatment as well as behavioral health care.
There is room for more integration like that, and not just between KHS and Kern Medical, but between all medical providers, he said. In his opinion, Duran is the right person to rely on this type of collaboration.
“She brings a very sophisticated management approach to this,” Thygerson said.