Piedmont Medical Center of Rock Hill has again been given permission to build a Fort Mill hospital.
S.C. Administrative Law Court Judge Phillip Lenski ruled Monday that PMC is the best qualified applicant for the required certificate of need, according to a copy of his order obtained by The Herald.
Lenski’s decision upheld his March opinion that said potential harm to PMC, combined with the hospital’s commitment to York County, were the leading factors in choosing PMC. He again ruled PMC should be allowed to build a 100-bed hospital at the intersection of S.C. 160 and U.S. 21 Bypass.
“We’re excited,” said Bill Masterton, Piedmont’s chief executive officer. With the court decision, PMC will immediately being updating plans for its Fort Mill hospital, with an anticipated opening date of first quarter of 2018.
Carolinas HealthCare System, which had appealed Lenksi’s March order, said in a statement Monday evening it was disappointed and is considering what “our next steps are in the process.”
“For more than 20 years, Carolinas HealthCare System physicians have served patients in York County, many in the Fort Mill area. For our York County patients, we pledge to continue to provide the highest quality care and service for their families’ healthcare needs,” the statement said.
CHS can appeal Lenski’s decision to the S.C. Court of Appeals.
The ruling is the latest development in a 10-year battle over who gets to build a Fort Mill hospital.
Piedmont, one of 80 hospitals operated by Texas-based Tenet Healthcare, was initially chosen by the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, which issued the York County hospital the required certificate of need in May 2006. That decision was appealed.
After a court-ordered review, DHEC awarded the certificate of need to Carolinas HealthCare System in September 2011. Piedmont appealed to the S.C. Administrative Law Court. After several weeks of testimony in the spring of 2013, Lenski ruled for Piedmont. He later vacated that decision and issued a new order. This time, his opinion was expanded from 39 to 52 pages.
“There are more reasons now for Piedmont,” Masterton said.
Masterton said Lenski’s new opinion is “quite compelling,” especially the number of references to PMC’s health care commitment to York County.
Piedmont’s contract with York County requires PMC to operate a countywide ambulance service, but it also controls how much PMC can charge for services.
“The citizens of York County derive innumerable benefits as a result of the transparency and enforceable obligations of the contract,” Lenski wrote in his latest decision.
Lenski also took issue with Carolinas HealthCare’s argument that a Fort Mill hospital would allow it to shift patients from other Carolinas Medical Center facilities and not take patients from PMC.
“This court cannot conclude that CHS would establish a new multi-million dollar facility in a new market without intending to serve new patients, many of whom would inevitably be existing Piedmont patients. To conclude otherwise would be capricious,” Lenski wrote.
Lenski reaffirmed his March decision which said that if Carolinas HealthCare built a Fort Mill hospital, it would adversely affect PMC and independent physicians in York County financially. It also would affect the quality of medical care offered.
Securing the Fort Mill certificate of need is part of three-pronged plan to keep competitive, PMC officials have said.
The first is the recently completed $20 million expansion of the emergency room at the Rock Hill hospital. Second is increasing the number of primary care practices PMC has in York County. Piedmont has added 16 primary care physicians and is still hiring, Masterton said.
A Fort Mill hospital is the third part of PMC’s plan.
With Monday’s decision, Piedmont will have architects update its plans.
“Things have changed in how hospitals are built over the last 10 years,” Masterton said.
There are new Americans with Disabilities Act requirements which would increase the size of the patient rooms. Costs are also likely to rise, but Masterton did not have any estimates.
As proposed in 2010, Piedmont’s 100-bed hospital in Fort Mill would cost $146.5 million and have all the services of a community hospital – general surgery, emergency department, labor and delivery, and advanced imaging.
Masterton said there is one major difference this time around.
When Lenski issued his March order, the state’s certificate of need program was limbo, pending a decision by the S.C. Supreme Court. The court has since ruled the state has to continue the program and cannot stop issuing certificates even if the state Legislature decides not to fund the program.
DHEC has resumed its certificate of need program.