Three boxes, piled high with extra-large three-ring binders. Fifteen of those three-ring binders are packed in the boxes, each filled to capacity with hundreds of letters of support for the three hospitals vying for the opportunity to build in Fort Mill.
Presbyterian Hospital, Carolinas Medical Center and Piedmont Medical Center made it easy for York County residents to tell the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control which hospital they want in Fort Mill.
For weeks this fall, the three hospitals sent mailers to homes throughout the county with detachable pre-paid postcards, pre-addressed to DHEC, each offering space for residents to write why they support their choice of hospital.
Each hospital set up websites, also offering an easy way to e-mail DHEC with support for the hospital of their choice.
Residents of Fort Mill and York County were not shy about giving their opinions.
Of the thousands of postcards and letters of support sent to DHEC, most were simple two- or three-sentence messages scratched onto one of those pre-addressed, pre-paid postcards. sent from the hospitals to homes around the county.
Reasons for support were often simple and short:
"Keep it local," said one postcard in support of Piedmont Medical Center, sent by York resident Wendell Hunt.
"I live close by and like CMC," said another, from Roxana Harrison in Rock Hill.
Other comments sent to DHEC were long letters containing multiple pages of hand-written narrative, detailing bad experiences with surgery or emergency care at one of the hospitals and citing better care received at the hospital of their choice.
Of those letters, many were scathing in their descriptions of the hospitals they felt had mistreated them.
"It's dirty, unreliable," read one.
Most of the letters supporting Piedmont Medical Center cited the hospital's ability to add to the local tax base, which would provide a financial boost to the school district. Letters supporting Presbyterian and Carolinas Medical Center often cited convenience as a driving factor.
The comments, along with all of the submitted information, will be reviewed by the Health Regulation staff, said DHEC spokesperson Adam Myrick. No piece of information is given more weight than another, Myrick added, and the comments of support are no more or less important than other parts of the Certificate of Need application.
"Everything as per regulation is put together and reviewed in totality," Myrick said.
The group reviewing the CON will be paid DHEC staffers who are trained to review CON applications.
In May, 2006, Piedmont Healthcare System was granted a Certificate of Need for construction of a hospital in Fort Mill, and the applications of Carolinas Healthcare System, Presbyterian Healthcare System and Hospital Partners of America were denied.
Carolinas Healthcare and Presbyterian both challenged the decision and in April the S.C. Supreme Court asked the three hospitals to resubmit updated applications for consideration.
Each of the hospitals had until Oct. 4 to update their original application.
According to Myrick, a decision might not be issued until as late as March 2011 - although it could come sooner.