Fort Mill trying to spur hospital construction

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comJune 23, 2014 

— Fort Mill Town Council put its two cents into the local hospital debate Monday morning.

“We’ll see if it makes any difference,” Councilwoman Guynn Savage said.

The town unanimously approved a resolution Monday asking the state suspend its Certificate of Need program for one year. The program awards hospitals the right to build in an area, and has been part of the years-long battle to build one in Fort Mill that’s now pared down to Piedmont Medical Center and Carolinas HealthCare System.

Mayor Danny Funderburk told Council he spoke with Gov. Nikki Haley on the topic when she visited Fort Mill last week to announce that the Lash Group and LPL Financial are relocating to the town from Charlotte. Haley has worked to kill the CON system by trying to cut off funding for the state-run program, but the S.C. Supreme Court ruled the program needs to be funded by some means unless the Legislature eliminates it by changing state law.

“She recognizes the issue,” Funderburk said.

The resolution states that more than 12,000 people in Fort Mill and more than 60,000 in northern York County have been waiting a decade for a new hospital, commuting 20 minutes or more for service, which “can be the difference between life and death.”

The Fort Mill hospital decision moving in and out of court multiple times, the resolution reads, has created a “state of frustration and confusion” for residents. The resolution cites “about $100 million” in several dozen projects statewide thrown into uncertainty when Haley vetoed funding for the CON program, preferring a free market approach and giving tacit consent for projects to proceed sans CON approval.

The most recent decision – since vacated – for a company in Fort Mill came April 1 when an administrative law court judge picked Piedmont. In 2011 the state health department chose Carolinas HealthCare.

The town voted to send its resolution to its state legislative delegation and both hospital contenders. Council didn’t pick a hospital they prefer, with some talk that members wouldn’t mind both coming to town.

Councilman Nathan Blythe asked if the one-year CON suspension would allow the needed confidence for hospital leaders to build. When Piedmont got its decision in April, leaders there indicated a hospital wouldn’t open until 2018.

“My concern is, will one year be long enough?” Blythe asked.

The feeling of Council is that a year would be enough to start construction should either or both hospitals choose, and that re-instituting the program wouldn’t shut an ongoing project down.

“I would assume once they get it under construction, they’d be OK,” said Dennis Pieper, town manager.

Amy Faulkenberry, spokeswoman for Piedmont, said Monday her company hasn’t seen the town resolution or been part of the process but that it’s hopeful the recent, vacated certificate of need decision will be upheld. She didn’t say whether Piedmont would look to build in the year window if legislators suspend the program.

“Piedmont Medical Center remains committed to being a good community partner and serving the healthcare needs of the Fort Mill community,” she said. “However, we respect the judicial process.”

Phil Whitesell, spokesman for Carolinas HealthCare, said his company couldn’t comment on the Fort Mill decision or Council’s resolution while the administrative law court case remains ongoing.

John Marks •  803-831-8166

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