Health & Family

Piedmont Medical Center wins right to build Fort Mill hospital

After a high-stakes, eight-year battle, Piedmont Medical Center has again won approval to build a hospital in Fort Mill, S.C. The ruling comes as a setback to Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, which had previously gotten the OK to build a hospital there.

The ruling released Tuesday was the second reversal in a case that dates back to 2006. First, Piedmont Medical Center got state approval to build in Fort Mill. After appeals, the state approval went to Carolinas HealthCare in 2011.

In the latest ruling, South Carolina Administrative Law Judge Phillip Lenski overturned the 2011 decision and gave the coveted project back to the Rock Hill hospital.

While Piedmont Medical officials celebrated the news, Carolinas HealthCare expressed surprise and disappointment. “We plan to review the full findings from the court and make a decision in the near future on what remedies are available and what our next steps are,” a Carolinas HealthCare statement said.

Much is at stake. Piedmont Medical, owned by the for-profit Tenet Healthcare Corp., declares it will lose millions if the Charlotte titan wins. And Carolinas HealthCare, Charlotte’s largest employer and one of the largest public nonprofit hospital systems in the country, seeks to expand its base of patients who can be referred to its other area hospitals.

After Tuesday’s announcement, Bill Masterton, Piedmont Medical’s chief executive officer, said the new hospital could be opened by 2018. Plans are to build a 100-bed, $120 million hospital at S.C. 160 West and U.S. 21 in Fort Mill, not far from Baxter Village, the housing community often cited as an example of York County’s booming growth.

Masterton will also serve as CEO of the Fort Mill hospital, which will take 36 beds from Piedmont Medical and will offer an emergency room, comprehensive women’s health services, advanced cardiac services and an intensive care unit. It would create about 400 jobs.

“We celebrate today with the community of Fort Mill as they are one step closer to getting the high-quality hospital that they have deserved for years,” Masterton said in the press release.

Tuesday’s announcement was just the latest in many twists during the contest to build a Fort Mill hospital.

In 2006, Piedmont Medical won the certificate of need from from the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to build the hospital. But Carolinas HealthCare and Novant Health, which had also applied for the CON, appealed. And a judge later ordered state regulators to reopen applications, essentially restarting the process.

Carolinas HealthCare won that round in 2011, when DHEC ruled that its proposal best complied with the state’s health plan. The proposed 64-bed, $77.5 million facility would have been built on land west of Sutton Road near Interstate 77.

Both Piedmont and Novant appealed that decision to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court, but Novant withdrew last spring. Over four weeks in April and May, Lenski heard attorneys for Piedmont argue that a Carolinas HealthCare hospital would financially harm Piedmont Medical Center and York County physicians. They noted that adverse economic impact is one of the factors DHEC can consider.

Piedmont attorneys said losing patients to Carolinas HealthCare over the years has changed the mix of payers, with Piedmont seeing an increase in the number of people insured by Medicare, Medicaid or having no insurance. If that trend of losing patients and revenue to Carolinas HealthCare continues, Piedmont will see a “slow death,” former CEO Charlie Miller testified.

Carolinas HealthCare attorneys said their hospital would not economically harm Piedmont because northern York County residents are already getting their health care from Carolinas Medical Center and CMC-Pineville. Carolinas HealthCare officials estimated they are already serving more than 50 percent of the patients in the Fort Mill-Tega Cay area. Don Worthington of The (Rock Hill) Herald contributed.

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