From Timber to Health Care at the Cedar Palace

Former Plum Creek administrative offices in Columbia Falls now a multi-use medical campus welcoming first patients this week

By Myers Reece
Dr. Karen Vesely and Dr. Jeremy Jennings of Glacier Medical Associates in Columbia Falls on Oct. 29, 2020. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Once home to the administrative offices of Plum Creek Timber Company, the “Cedar Palace” has been transformed into a multi-use medical complex, with the first patients walking through the doors this week.

Glacier Medical Associates (GMA) and Orthopedic Rehab Physical Therapy (OrthoRehab) purchased the building last November and spearheaded an extensive remodel, led by general contractor Martel Construction. The medical facility was expected to begin welcoming patients on Monday, Nov. 2.

Before GMA and OrthoRehab could finalize the purchase last year, the city of Columbia Falls first had to annex the property and grant a zone change from industrial to commercial, which paved the way for a renovation project that included a full gutting of the interior while leaving the overall structure intact. Counting purchase and construction, the final price tag was about $6 million.

“There were no walls left standing,” Kelli Meuchel, GMA’s administrator, said. “It really just needed to be refreshed.”

Meuchel said the Whitefish-based clinic already serves numerous people from Columbia Falls — roughly one-quarter of its patient base — and that its providers frequently hear from Columbia Falls patients about the difficulties of finding in-town providers and having to travel out of town for care.

“We’re one of the last independent medical practices left in this valley,” Meuchel said. “Meeting the patients where they are is critical to how we like to deliver care.”

Dr. Jeremy Jennings of GMA noted that Columbia Falls is fast-growing and affordable, leading to an expanding patient base in need of more accessible care.

“We see a lot of patients coming all the way over to Whitefish,” Jennings said. “We’re interested in being closer to the patients we take care of.”

The 35,000-square-foot building sits on 22 acres along 12th Avenue West. In addition to GMA and OrthoRehab, the Cedar Palace will be home to Sykes Pharmacy, Sweetgrass Psychological Services, Whitefish Chiropractor Center, Glacier Eye Clinic, Healthy Beginnings Pediatric Therapy and Kalispell Regional Healthcare specialists.

“It’s become a very multi-use facility for the community of Columbia Falls with care they have access to all in one stop,” Meuchel said.

Glacier Medical Associates has 198 employees overall, including 16 providers: 11 physicians along with five family nurse practitioners and physician assistants. Similar to its Whitefish clinic, GMA will offer in Columbia Falls a range of services, including urgent care. It will also operate a full-service laboratory at the new location, in addition to 12 exam rooms.

Dr. Karen Vesely said the immediate proximity of OrthoRehab to the GMA urgent care will pay dividends, as the clinic often sees work-related orthopedic injuries.

“I think it’s going to be great to have that partnership especially for those orthopedic injuries that we see all the time,” Vesely said.

To start, Vesely will work onsite multiple days a week, while other GMA providers will rotate to fill out the remaining weekly schedule.

“Everyone will have a presence over here,” Jennings said of the rotating providers.

Jennings and Meuchel said the city of Columbia Falls and broader community have been supportive and welcoming.

“I think it’s going to be a great addition to the community,” Meuchel said. “The community has been so embracing and excited for us to here.”

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