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Hospital cancer center must move to survive

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A $10.4 million project to move a cancer treatment center from Georgetown to Murrells Inlet is under review by state regulators. The shift is designed to keep up with the patient base and preempt a move into the area by another health care provider, according to the Georgetown Hospital System.

If approved, the hospital system will move the Francis B. Ford Cancer Treatment Center from Georgetown to the Waccamaw Medical Park. The Ford Center opened on Highway 701 in 2004. The application to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control shows the project includes buying a new linear accelerator and CT simulator.

The radiation treatment center is operated by the hospital system in affiliation with the Medical University of South Carolina. It draws 60 percent of its patients from the Waccamaw Neck and the coast north of Georgetown, said Rick Kaylor, vice president of planning and development for the hospital system.

“Moving to Murrells Inlet would have better accessibility for the majority of our patients,” he said.

It’s also likely that other providers will seek to put radiological services in southern Horry County or the Murrells Inlet area, which would cut into the Ford Center’s patient base, he said.

“We couldn’t afford to sustain that sort of loss,” Kaylor said. “In order to stay in business, we have to move.”

The DHEC certificate for the Ford Center took two years to grant due to appeals from the Coastal Cancer Center. “We have reason to believe that it will be a competitive application” for the move to Murrells Inlet, Kaylor said.

The hospital system, which operates Waccamaw Community and Georgetown Memorial hospitals, also announced this week it was scrapping plans to move the Georgetown hospital in favor of redeveloping the existing site. The hospital planned to build a new facility on Highway 701 near the Crown Pointe development outside Georgetown. That development, once proposed to have more than 9,700 dwellings, is no longer planned.

Work began last month on a $9 million, 90,000-square-foot office building adjacent to Waccamaw Community Hospital. One of the services proposed for the three-story building is an orthopedic-spine-neuroscience facility.

Georgetown Hospital System also plans to ask for DHEC approval to add four operating rooms to Waccamaw Community Hospital. The four existing operating rooms are operating near capacity.

The new operating rooms are also needed to develop the integrated orthopedic-spine-neuroscience service, for which MUSC will provide a neurosurgeon, Kaylor said.

The office building should be completed in a year. The hospital expects to have permits for the new operating rooms by May. They will take two years to complete, Kaylor said.

Other services from the Waccamaw Medical Park, which is across Bypass 17 from the Waccamaw Community Hospital, will move to the new office building, including primary care, endoscopy, wound care and pain management.

By that time, the hospital system hopes to be able to start tearing down a portion of the medical park to make room for the new cancer treatment center. “It’s kind of a sequential process,” Kaylor said.

Waccamaw Community Hospital opened in November 2002 with 69 beds. It added another 14 in the first year. After two expansions, including construction of a fourth floor, it now has 167 beds.

Georgetown Memorial Hospital has 131 beds. Along with the change in the economy, the hospital has seen a change in the way care is delivered since plans to build a new hospital were announced. “Inpatient has gone to outpatient,” Kaylor said.

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