The Mee Memorial Healthcare System had already made some painful cuts to staff and services in 2019 and now the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing even more cuts. These cuts hit close to the bone as the hospital aims to ensure its future existence, Interim CEO Rena Salamacha announced on Thursday, April 30. Layoffs of 55 employees took effect the same day.
The system is laying off an estimated 18 percent of its workforce, less than a year after it laid off 13 percent in July. At that time, former CEO Michael Hutchinson reported Mee were laying off 43 of 353 employees, leaving 310. The latest round leaves Mee Memorial with less than 250 employees. An exact number was not immediately available.
"It's a sobering day. It's something we had to do, and not a decision we made lightly at all," Salamacha says by phone.
Mee Memorial's hospital and four South County clinics experienced a 59-percent decline in patient visits during the month of April, along with a corresponding decline in revenue. Salamacha says she had be fiscally responsible and reduce costs in order to protect essential services as well as the healthcare system's future. It's the only hospital for 50 miles south of Salinas and 60 miles north of the nearest hospital in San Luis Obispo County.
The reduction in patient visits and revenue is a challenge facing all local healthcare systems during the pandemic: To bolster a frontline defense against the coronavirus, systems are canceling elective surgeries and other procedures while at the same time patients are choosing to stay away—sometimes with dangerous results.
Mee Memorial pursued funding through the CARES Act and other federal programs, but Salamacha calls the amount available minimal, leaving the hospital with a significant funding gap. She says rural hospitals and healthcare programs have largely been forgotten thus far in the pandemic.
Other cutbacks at Mee Memorial include:
- A hiring freeze for positions considered not essential to Covid-19 response or the immediate viability of Mee Memorial Healthcare System
- Salary reductions
- Suspension of annual merit increases, which had been scheduled to go into effect in fiscal year 2020
- Temporary suspension of selected specialty services which are experiencing low demand. Those include labor and delivery and cardiology.
"We must place patient care first, but we deeply regret the hardship on laid-off staff and their families," Salamacha said in a press release.
The cuts do not affect emergency room services, direct bedside nursing care, or investments in PPE and life-saving equipment as needed for Covid-19 treatment.
Salamacha says the hospital and clinics are available and safe for appointments and treatment. Telehealth is also an option for medical care delivered from a distance using phones, tablets or computers.
"We're concerned that patients may be neglecting their health needs out of fear of contracting or spreading Covid-19, and we want to make sure they know they have safe treatment and consulting options," Salamacha said in the release. "It's important to keep following all public guidelines issued by the state and local authorities, but we remain an essential service here, providing both personal and telehealth services to the community."