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Mee closes its Paso Robles facilities

Posted: Thursday, Dec 6th, 2007

Due to mounting financial difficulties at Mee Memorial Hospital, Mee Health Systems officials announced they were closing Mee Medical Pavilion offices that include the Mee at Paso Urgent Care and the new Mee Cancer Center.

The decision was made Wednesday and was “effective immediately,” according to Liz Syer, marketing director for Mee Health Systems. Employees who could be were incorporated into other company holdings and all patients were directed to other facilities appropriate for their care, she said.

“We just couldn’t make it work financially,” Syer said.

Mee’s urgent care facility has been serving the Paso Robles area since November 2005. It saw patients on a walk-in basis without appointments and provided ambulatory medical treatment for non-emergency injuries and illnesses, according to a press release. The cancer center opened in late October with plans to offer patients in the south Monterey and north San Luis Obispo counties treatment options for cancer and cancer-related disorders.

Mee Health Systems president and chief executive officer Walt Beck said it was “difficult” to close the medical pavilion offices.

“For all our employees and trustees who have worked so hard to make Mee viable in north San Luis Obispo County, closing is quite difficult,” he said in a release. “Our decision will allow Mee to focus on our capital and human resources for a more favorable situation in south Monterey County. We continue to believe that we are on track to achieving the hospital’s overall financial performance objectives.”

Beck said that despite the final outcome, the Paso Robles community had been very receptive to Mee, but the rest of the medical community hadn’t followed suit.

“While the community at large accepted Mee with open arms, the reception received from the local medical community has proved to be less than anticipated, which ultimately has affected our ability to make the healthcare venture the success for which we originally planned,” Beck said in a release. “We will return to our core business efforts in the King City area and continue to find a way to reverse the financial woes currently being experienced at Mee. Our belief is that we can accomplish this. Many hospitals experience fiscal difficulties, and it is our job as hospital officials to reverse this situation through careful planning and pursuing programs aimed at boosting revenues.”

In the past year, Mee Memorial Hospital, located in King City, expanded to 123 beds, according to a release. The closure of the Mee Medical Pavilion follows a Nov. 27 city council meeting in King City where hospital employees spoke out about working conditions and the financial state of the hospital.

Beck said the hospitals financial struggles are nothing new in the current economic climate.

“California has experienced more than 70 closings of hospitals in the last 10 years alone, and we continue to operate with ever-increasing challenges,” he said in release. “We know these challenges affect all businesses, which in turn affects every man, woman and child in the state. There are fewer emergency rooms available, shortages in the highly skilled healthcare workforce, and earthquake safety requirements with which all hospitals must comply or be forced to close by 2013. And there are no federal or state monies to support this mandate. It’s no wonder every hospital is close to the breaking point.”

Though the medical pavilion offices are closed, Mee Health Systems’ financial obligation to building owner Pacific Management and Development, which initiated unlawful retainer proceedings a couple of weeks ago, according to Jim Saunders, co-principal owner of the company.

The hearing is set for Monday, Dec. 17 in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.

Since Mee Memorial Hospital moved in Sept. 1 at their Fourth Street location, it has not paid any rent, Saunders said. Mee also obtained a number of subtenants, which it had never gained the required approval from Pacific Management and Development as building owners, he said. Subtenants include Central Coast Pathology and others of which “there’s only a couple that we’re aware of,” he said.

Mee Memorial has a 10-year lease commitment on the building, according to Saunders.

Pacific Management and Development would have to obtain a judgment on the unlawful detainer proceedings, and if they prevail, Mee would be obligated to pay the remaining term of the lease, he said.

“We aren’t as building owners going to ask any of the subtenants to leave because it’s not fair to them or to the community, and if the people in urgent care can find a way to keep it open, they can stay so the community doesn’t have to suffer from that loss,” Saunders said.

The company had improved the building since its occupation based on the agreement with Mee, Saunders said, noting that the business plan presented to it was very convincing.

“We’ve spent millions of dollars obviously to build the facility and build the tenant improvements down to the toilet paper rolls,” he said.

Earlier this year, the Paso Robles City Council and Planning Commission adopted a new master plan for Fourth Street, the Fourth Street Master Plan.

That plan, which includes a project with 116,000 square feet of commercial development, 74 residential units, four medical offices in a campus setting on the north side of Fourth Street near the Mee Medical Center, an assisted living center for up to 52 residents on the south side of Fourth Street, a mixed-use retail and residential project and a 48-unit multi-family complex, according to past reports.

Mee’s departure won’t affect the larger plan, Saunders said.

“It’s a mixed-use devlopment plan, and the cancer facility was only one cog in that wheel and not even 10 percent of all of the buildings we were going to be doing here, but it was a nice start,” he said. “Now we’re in a mode to try to recover from this setback and create something that will really enhance the medical profession for the city of Paso Robles.”

Mee’s financial struggles came despite a great deal of buzz generated in the community prior to opening.

“We promoted their facility since we first started working with them,” Saunders said. “It’s just awful, and I feel terrible for the people that put their faith in the Mee Oncology Center — these people don’t deserve a hit like that — and the same goes for the urgent care.”

Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce president Mike Gibson said he was disappointed Mee was forced to shutdown its operation but expressed optimism that Saunders might secure a similar use to the specialty-type building.

“That [business] was a great community asset and a great organization,” Gibson said. “I’m just a little disappointed that it didn’t come to fruition but just as concerned that everything is OK with those folks at Mee Memorial.”

Gibson said Mee brought something to Paso Robles that the chamber was looking for as far as technical employees and staff, as well as serving as a destination situation.

For the past two years Mee Memorial Hospital was a part of the chamber’s chairmanship circle sponsors.

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