New CEO joins hospital staff in transition toward recovery
By SEAN RONEY
Published: July 8th, 2009, King City Rustler, Page 1
Mee Memorial Hospital's new CEO arrived in town last week, marking the first step in the hospital's transition toward stability. The transition saw Interim CEO Mike French leave on July 2, with new permanent CEO Lex Smith taking the lead on June 29. French worked for Wellspring Partners, a consulting group brought in last year to put the hospital back in order after its financial situation went into the red. "Mee Memorial has always been a good clinical hospital," French said. "They've always had good care. Just, the business side was broken or non-existent."
Now that Mee has been able to operate for multiple months with positive cash flow, French was able to step out and let in a permanent CEO. "We're a couple months away from Wellspring finishing," Smith said. "I'll be working with them over the next couple of months on slowly transitioning the administration. Upon arrival, Smith immediately met with department managers, physicians, and hospital staff, as well as CEOs of neighboring hospitals, such as Natividad and the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. "The things done over the past year have been crucial," Smith said of Wellspring's work to bring the hospital back to positive cash flow. "Now we can build on that. My goal is to expand upon what they've done."
One step toward the hospital increasing services is the announcement of three new physicians joining the team within the next few weeks. Two pediatricians and one obstetrician will join the hospital. There are also plans for a family practice physician to start sometime next spring. Additionally, Smith has plans to expand the pediatric and cardiovascular services. "Because of the past finances, the hospital hasn't been able to focus on upgrading its services," Smith said. He said the staff physicians are excited to have the new arrivals, as it means less referrals out of the area for services.
Having spent 30 years in the medical administration field , Smith brings rural hospital experience. He recently spent 24 years as CEO of Parkview Hospital in El Reno, Okla. "I helped develop it from a sleepy hospital to a full service hospital with a whole spectrum of services." In 2007, Smith was chosen as Rural Hospital Administrator of the Year in Oklahoma, by the Rural Health Association of Oklahoma. As for what brought him out to King City, "I was interested in a community where I could make a difference." He said from his experience with a rural hospital that was also a regional center, that Mee Memorial was a fit . "It was important for me to find a hospital where I could commit 10 years of my professional career to," he said. "There's an opportunity to spend the rest of my career here."
With neighboring hospitals 50 miles away to the North and South, Mee Memorial is important to the region. "All its services are crucial to the community," Smith said. In addition to wanting to grow the hospital's services to improve the offerings to the region, Smith is a big proponent of obstetrician services. "It's a department where you get to see new families being formed." Smith has moved to King City with Becky, his wife of 34 years. "I always try to live within five minutes of where I work, and be involved in the community." Having put the final touches on purchasing a home on the north end of town, Smith now lives within that five minutes from Mee.
The next step for the hospital is to seek out a permanent Chief Financial Officer to replace Interim CFO Gary Wangsmo. "We have several applicants from the state, and out of the state," Smith said. "Our goal is to have someone selected by the end of the month, and hopefully make an announcement in August."
Outgoing Interim CEO French said, "The biggest thing that I will miss here is the support we got from this community." He noted the amount of time and effort the board of trustees gave, as well as their total support from day one. "We made a lot of difficult decisions and a lot of changes. The board was very supportive." French will return home to Atlanta for a while before heading to another hospital under Wellspring's services. "Wellspring is working on other turnaround opportunities. I'm anxious for the next assignment, but not anxious to leave the people here."
Mee Memorial Hospital is a 123-bed, not-for-profit hospital and the focus of Mee Health Systems, a network of healthcare centers, clinics and outreach programs throughout South Monterey County. Mee Health Systems is committed to the wellness of the communities we serve, and providing access to comprehensive healthcare in a caring, professional and responsible environment. To learn more about Mee and its facilities, visit www.meememorial.com