Wait for Fort Mill hospital lingers

FORT MILL -- Fort Mill must continue to wait for a new hospital.

A 2006 decision by the Department of Health and Environmental Control granted Tenet's Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill a permit to build a new hospital in Fort Mill.

But Charlotte-based Presbyterian Hospital and Carolinas HealthCare System are appealing DHEC's decision after their applications to build the hospital were denied in favor of the application by Piedmont Medical Center.

A hearing in front of the Administrative Law Court had been scheduled for last month but has been rescheduled for December at the earliest.

Shelby Kellahan, assistant to Judge Carolyn Matthews, said Tuesday the case was scheduled to be heard between Dec. 2 and Dec. 19.

Either side may appeal the judge's decision to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

The hospital would serve Fort Mill, the fastest-growing part of York County, and Indian Land, the fastest-growing part of Lancaster County.

Carolinas HealthCare System's spokesman Scott White said Wednesday the hospital wishes the proceedings would go forward and be resolved.

"We think it should be resolved in our favor for the people of Fort Mill," White said.

Piedmont blamed Carolinas HealthCare System for not providing documents in time to proceed with the hearing.

"It's unfortunate that Carolinas HealthCare System's unwillingness to produce the materials that support their position and representations as part of their appeal in a timely manner has caused this delay," said Piedmont CEO Charlie Miller in a statement given to the Observer on Thursday. "It's unconscionable they would purposely cause this unnecessary delay in our building the hospital Piedmont has been approved to build for the residents of Fort Mill, the only hospital to meet their needs now and in the future."

At issue is whether Piedmont received favored treatment during the application process from DHEC.

Presbyterian and Carolinas HealthCare System argue DHEC went against its own rules for Piedmont. Plus, they argue, the citizenry wants a hospital run by a company other than Piedmont for the fast-growing Fort Mill area.

Fort Mill residents in search of a hospital now go to Rock Hill, Pineville, N.C., or Charlotte.

The issue has been contentious from the beginning. Residents unhappy with the care they've received from Piedmont vigorously endorsed the idea of a hospital run by one of the two Charlotte hospitals. Thousands contacted Presbyterian endorsing the Charlotte hospital's plans to build in Fort Mill.

"More than 4,000 York County residents asked us to be their health-care provider in letters and other communications," said Presbyterian spokeswoman Marcia Meredith. "We are hopeful that we can someday honor that request through the proposed Presbyterian Hospital Fort Mill."

The issue even arose in the races for York County Council after several council members visited DHEC, a move viewed by opponents of DHEC's decision as an endorsement of Piedmont.

Piedmont is a for-profit hospital, subject to more taxes than Presbyterian and Carolinas HealthCare System, which are run as nonprofits and are exempt from some taxes paid to the county and state.

The state and local governments would receive more tax revenue from Piedmont than either Carolinas HealthCare System or Presbyterian.