Mee Memorial Hospital in King City (Contributed Photo)

KING CITY — Mee Memorial Healthcare System has been certified as a Critical Access Hospital, earning approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services after several years of pursuit.

The process began in 2016 and officially went into effect this year on June 25.

“Lower patient volumes, higher expenses and changes in reimbursement are affecting hospitals of all sizes across the region and country,” said Rena Salamacha, Mee Memorial interim CEO, in an announcement July 14. “Achieving Critical Access Hospital status is one of the significant strategic planning steps taken by Mee Memorial Healthcare System to address these challenges and ensure the long-term success of the hospital.”

Congressman Jimmy Panetta was credited with securing an earlier Joint Commission survey date to speed up the process. Hospitals designated as “critical access” receive higher reimbursement from the federal government for services provided, according to Panetta’s office.

“I am proud to have helped Mee Memorial secure this designation as a Critical Access Hospital. This support from our federal government will ensure that they have the resources needed to continue to serve our community, during this bruising pandemic and beyond,” Panetta said.

This designation comes as the area tackles the Covid-19 pandemic, during which Mee Memorial has seen a lower elective patient turnout that resulted in a budget shortfall triggering an early May layoff of 55 employees.

Salamacha did not comment on whether the CAH designation will prevent more layoffs or enable rehiring of previously laid-off personnel.

“Critical Access Hospitals are at the heart of the communities they serve. This designation allows Mee Memorial Healthcare System to continue to provide local care to our patients and communities,” Salamacha said. “The designation was critical to strengthen our rural healthcare options for both inpatient and outpatient services.”

Mee Memorial Healthcare System operates Mee Memorial Hospital and three clinics in King City as well as the Albert and Donna Oliveira Clinic in Greenfield.

The CAH designation was created by Congress through the Balanced Budget Act of 1997 in response to a string of rural hospital closures during the 1980s and early 1990s. Eligible hospitals must meet the following conditions to obtain “critical access” status:

  • Have 25 or fewer acute care inpatient beds;
  • Be located more than 35 miles from another hospital;
  • Maintain an annual average length of stay of 96 hours or less for acute care patients; and
  • Provide 24/7 emergency care services.

The designation is designed to reduce the financial vulnerability of rural hospitals and improve access to healthcare by keeping essential services available in rural communities. Critical Access Hospitals receive such benefits as cost-based reimbursement for Medicare services, and the designation will result in more reimbursement annually for Mee Memorial at this critical time.

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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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