The consensus at the Glennon Conference and Community Center on Monday night was residents of northern York County deserve a hospital where they can get quality and affordable health care - without leaving home.
The applicants for a new Fort Mill hospital - Carolinas HealthCare System, Piedmont Medical Center and Novant Health - presented an array of data to support their claims of quality care and affordability. There was even some grudging acknowledgement that each provides quality care to its patients.
The debate was over which one is the best choice to operate the new hospital. Each has filed an application with the state to build a Fort Mill hospital. A decision by the state's Department of Health and Environmental Control is not expected before this spring.
More than 250 people filled the community center, first to hear presentations from each hospital, then to question the applicants extensively on everything from patient care to finances to commitment to the community.
For many, the debate is about which type of hospital serves the community better. Piedmont Medical Center is a for-profit hospital and part of the Tenet Healthcare system. Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant, which operates the Presbyterian hospitals, are non-profits.
Much was made Monday of the taxes Piedmont would pay if it is selected by the state. Piedmont's property is within Fort Mill's town limits, and hospital administrators have talked to the town about abating some of the property taxes.
Piedmont officials said they are not seeking an abatement of school district taxes - about $2.2 million annually.
Carolinas HealthCare and Novant are looking to build hospitals near the intersection of Interstate 77 and Sutton Road in Fort Mill Township.
Officials from Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant Health urged people to look at the property tax issue differently. Each said they will make investments into the community that are as significant, if not greater, than property tax alone.
Taxes, said Chris Hummer, president of the Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville, should "fade in the light of quality health care ... the decision should not be about taxes."
Hummer said Carolinas Medical Center is already the hospital of choice for many residents of northern York County with a market share of 55 percent of the residents in 2009.
Representatives for Piedmont and Presbyterian said the issue is one of choice.
"We believe we bring choice to Fort Mill. We will give people north of the Catawba River access to Piedmont" said Charles Miller, president and chief executive officer for Piedmont Medical Center. He said on the key issues of quality and cost there is little difference among the applicants. "The difference in the project is economic impact."
Dr. Andrew Mueller, physician executive for Presbyterian Healthcare, said Presbyterian should be selected because of its experience in building community hospitals and its commitment to involving physicians at all levels of decision making.
"No decision" is made without practicing physicians "being at the table," he said.
Having physicians involved means they are there to advocate for the patients, he said.