Hospitals: Walk through the door Haley opened

June 30, 2014 

It’s unlikely a resolution passed by the Fort Mill Town Council last week will speed up the process of deciding who gets to build a hospital here, but we applaud the effort.

Council asked the state to suspend the convoluted Certificate of Need program for one year, hoping that would pave the way for either Piedmont Medical Center or its competitor, Carolinas HealthCare System, to move ahead with plans that have been stuck in bureaucratic purgatory the better part of a decade. The resolution followed a conversation Mayor Danny Funderburk had with Gov. Nikki Haley when she visited Fort Mill recently.

Haley tried to kill the CON system by vetoing funding for the state-run program. The Legislature sustained the veto, 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.

The resolution takes the position that after numerous attempts by the state to award a CON to companies applying to build a Fort Mill hospital and a series of court battles, the process has created a “state of frustration and confusion” for residents. That’s undeniable. We’ve heard from many residents who favor either PMC or CHS, but who at this point would gladly settle for any qualified provider building a facility to serve 12,000 town residents and thousands of others in the greater Fort Mill Township.

Here’s our take: Why don’t they both build a hospital?

If the current pace of growth continues, planners’ predictions that Fort Mill’s population will double in less than 20 years is on-target. Two hospitals would be needed by then to serve that many people. Why wait?

The flip side is, no matter how much local officials agree with Haley that the free market and not an antiquated law should determine how residents are served, S.C. courts may stand in the way. Recently, Administrative Law Court Judge Ralph King Anderson III ordered that Trident Medical Center must shut down a 14-bed rehab unit it opened at its Charleston facility this year without going through the CON process. That decision was the result of a complaint filed by a competitor.

However, that ruling could still be overturned on appeal.

In the meantime, it would be interesting to see what would happen if both PMC and CHS broke ground on their respective Fort Mill sites. If neither challenged the other, there wouldn’t be a need for the state, let alone the courts, to intervene.

Gov. Haley opened the door for these companies to break the cycle of court rulings and appeals and actually give residents what they say they want – a hospital of their own. But will either take that big step?

We certainly hope so.

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