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Health: Waccamaw hospital marks a decade of growth

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

For Waccamaw Community Hospital, this week marked a significant anniversary; for Georgetown Memorial Hospital, a new beginning.

Waccamaw Community Hospital opened its doors 10 years ago: Nov. 5, 2002. Patient volume has tripled in some areas over the past decade, according to Gayle Resetar, chief operating officer for Georgetown Hospital System.

“I do not know that any of us could have predicted the unbelievable pace of growth,” she said.

Since admitting its first patient to a 69-bed facility, Waccamaw Community Hospital added beds in 2004 and 2008, bringing the total number to 167. The Imaging Center opened across Bypass 17, and Waccamaw Medical Park West opened last spring. A new state-of-the-art 3 Tesla MRI unit, the first of its kind in Georgetown and Horry counties, came online this past summer.

And more growth is on the way.

Expansion of the surgery center is set for completion in 2013. It will add four operating rooms, bringing the total to eight, and six recovery beds for a total of 14. Two rooms for minor procedures are being added, and the outpatient surgery waiting area is being enlarged.

Georgetown Memorial Hospital will begin a phased renovation, according to an announcement yesterday by H. McRoy Skipper Jr., chairman of the hospital system board.

In Phase I, expected to cost about $22 million, a second-floor nursing unit will undergo major renovations and the hospital’s main entrance will be relocated from Black River Road to Memorial Lane. The first floor “mall” area also will be reoriented, providing a new traffic pattern for patient access and outpatient services.

“Parts of Georgetown Memorial Hospital are more than 60 years old,” said Bruce P. Bailey, CEO of Georgetown Hospital System. “As a result, significant work must be done to upgrade and replace some of the aging infrastructure before other work can begin.”

In the first phase of the project, the building will be re-roofed, heating and cooling systems replaced and the exterior resurfaced in order to blend with a new tower to be built as the second phase. It will include patient beds and operating rooms, Bailey said.

The renovations at Georgetown come after hospital officials decided against building a new facility north of town after a proposed development of new homes, Crown Pointe, never came to fruition.

“A new hospital, starting from green grass, is a huge project,” Resetar said. “Everything would have to be new: infrastructure, water, sewer. It was an incredibly costly project, and after the economy shifted, we were worried about spending that much money.”

The Georgetown campus, Resetar said, has almost all the same amenities as Waccamaw Community Hospital, including a very fine imaging center and more advanced cardiac care.

“It’s a misconception that Waccamaw has more advanced technology,” she said. “There’s not much difference at all.”

Waccamaw Community Hospital has certainly grown over the past decade while Georgetown Memorial’s patient load has dropped.

In its first year of operation, Waccamaw admitted just under 3,000 inpatients, cared for just under 12,000 emergency department patients and delivered 270 babies.

In the past year, the hospital admitted nearly 8,000 inpatients, cared for more than 27,000 emergency department patients and delivered nearly 600 babies.

Corresponding numbers for the past decade at Georgetown Memorial Hospital were not available this week.

Georgetown Hospital’s Board of Trustees bought some of the land for Waccamaw Hospital nearly 20 years ago, Resetar said. It was right in the center of a triangle formed by the points of Georgetown Memorial, Conway Hospital and Grand Strand Regional Medical Center. It took more than a year to get a Certificate of Need from the state for Waccamaw Hospital — competitors feared losing market share in an area where Georgetown had been a minor player. Growth in Surfside Beach, Socastee and Murrells Inlet in the past 10 years has proven the hospital’s trustees were right about growth there. Waccamaw Community Hospital has been continually adding facilities just to keep up.

Georgetown Memorial continues to serve people in Georgetown, Andrews and surrounding communities while sharing part of the Pawleys Island market, Resetar said. While Georgetown Memorial may have fewer patients today, it did not lose them to Waccamaw.

“Somebody was going to put a hospital on the South Strand equidistant to those three hospitals,” Resetar said. “Somebody was going to meet the needs of those consumers.”

The Murrells Inlet region’s population growth has attracted specialists: an intervention cardiologist, an infectious disease specialist and a pulmonologist, Resetar said. “A larger population provides an opportunity to recruit new specialists,” she said. “That benefits Georgetown County as a whole.”

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