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Health care: Hospital projects clear legal hurdle

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

A judge has ordered the state Department of Health and Environmental Control to issue a certificate of need for 17 rehabilitation beds at Waccamaw Community Hospital, ending a dispute that has dragged on for three years.

It was one of three court rulings in the last week that pave the way for expanded services at Georgetown County hospitals.

Georgetown Hospital System, now Tidelands Health, applied in 2013 to convert 15 acute care beds at Waccamaw Community Hospital into inpatient rehab beds at a cost of $500,000. Grand Strand Regional Medical Center also applied for the 17 rehab beds designated for the area under the state health plan. It proposed building a new facility at a cost of nearly $12 million.

DHEC’s review was delayed when Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed funding for the agency to administer the certificate of need program. Funds were re-sorted after an appeal to the state Supreme Court, and last year the agency staff approved the rehab beds for Waccamaw and denied Grand Strand’s application. Grand Strand appealed that decision to the DHEC board, which upheld the staff decision.

Grand Strand argued that all the rehab beds in the region are at Waccamaw. But Waccamaw argued that it had invested in its rehab program since 2002 and adding new beds at Grand Strand would reduce its patients, its funding and, ultimately, the quality of care.

At the same meeting, the DHEC board approved a new state health plan that showed the need for 39 more acute rehab beds in the region. Board members also chided the hospital systems for the time spent on appeals.

Grand Strand appealed the board’s decision to the Administrative Law Court. Last week, it agreed to dismiss the case. Judge H.W. Funderburk ordered DHEC to issue the certificate of need to Waccamaw.

Tidelands Health declined to comment on what led to the resolution of the dispute or what its next step will be. Grand Strand did not respond to an email seeking comment.

This week, Grand Strand also agreed to dismiss a legal challenge to DHEC’s decision to approve a certificate of need for elective heart surgery at Georgetown Memorial Hospital. That application, also delayed by Haley’s budget veto, was approved in 2014.

Georgetown Memorial already performs the procedure, known as percutanious coronary intervention, at MUSC. It said it would cost $70,000 to be able to perform the surgeries at Georgetown. It expects to conduct over 300 a year. Grand Strand argued it would take patients away from its coronary care program.

Judge Phillip Lenski this week ordered DHEC to issue the certificate of need within 10 days.

Georgetown Memorial’s application to add 15 psychiatric beds will move forward following the dismissal of a third case in the Administrative Law Court. The DHEC review of the application was challenged by HHC South Carolina, operator of the Lighthouse Care Center in Conway. HHC also challenged issuance of a certificate of need to Grand Strand for 20 beds.

The appeals were consolidated and HHC last week agreed to dismiss them.

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