The suspension of the state Certificate of Need program is unlikely to immediately affect a proposed Fort Mill hospital, health care experts say.
Piedmont Medical Center and Carolinas HealthCare System are being cautious because they are still fighting in court over who should get to build the hospital in one of the fastest-growing areas of the county.
The Department of Health and Environmental Control is suspending the way the state authorizes the construction of new hospitals because Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the $1.7 million lawmakers budgeted to run the program starting Monday.
Haley has sought to abolish the program, saying it restricts access to health care, drives down quality and drives up costs.
But the South Carolina Hospital Association said her veto will effectively freeze bond financing for hospital construction.
“Instead of freeing up the market, Gov. Haley has paralyzed it,” said Allan Stalvey, executive vice president of the hospital group.
DHEC director Catherine Templeton said Friday that the suspension of the program “has the practical effect of allowing new and expanding health care facilities to move forward without the Certificate of Need process.”
Rock Hill’s Piedmont Medical Center has been trying to build a Fort Mill hospital since DHEC awarded it a Certificate of Need in 2006. The courts overturned that decision.
In 2011, DHEC gave a certificate to Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare to build a $77.5 million, 64-bed hospital. Piedmont and Presbyterian Hospital of Charlotte appealed that ruling, but Presbyterian has since dropped out.
An administrative law judge heard Piedmont’s appeal in April. Attorneys for the two hospitals are filing final documents requested by the judge. A decision is not expected until fall.
“To our knowledge, because the Fort Mill Certificate of Need was heard by the Administrative Law Court, it will be not be affected by this decision,” Piedmont spokeswoman Amy Faulkenberry said.
Carolinas HealthCare said Friday that it was reviewing DHEC’s actions and “will weigh the impact it could have on pending projects, and what our options might be.”
Efforts to reach DHEC officials to clarify the status of the proposed Fort Mill hospital were unsuccessful Friday.
Health care consultant Lynn Bailey of Columbia said DHEC’s licensing process includes the issuance of a building permit and safety reviews, which are not affected by Haley’s veto.
That process could take six months or more, Bailey said.
That time frame – combined with the fact that the Certificate of Need program has been suspended for a year, but not eliminated – makes it unlikely that Piedmont or Carolinas HealthCare would proceed with a Fort Mill hospital, Bailey said.
The South Carolina Hospital Association is advising its members to follow all the Certificate of Need rules – even if there is no one to review or rule on the filings.
State Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, said he didn’t know how the state would treat situations, such as Carolinas HealthCare’s, that have been appealed to the courts.
“My advice is to be optimistic, but tread cautiously,” he said.
Templeton said Friday that DHEC likely wouldn’t “take enforcement actions” against hospitals that move ahead with projects during the program’s suspension.
While Piedmont Medical Center awaits information on a Fort Mill hospital, Faulkenberry said, it plans to proceed with smaller projects that need Certificates of Need.
According to DHEC, Piedmont has filed a Certificate of Need application for a $2.6 million robotic surgical system.
HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital of Rock Hill also has a Certificate of Need request to spend $2.4 million to add seven rehabilitation beds, increasing its capacity to 57 beds.
The State newspaper contributed to this story.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066