A bustling Fort Mill hospital, a third hospital in western York County and Piedmont Medical Center becoming York County's top private employer are all possibilities in the next 25 years if the hospital, celebrating 25 years this weekend, keeps up its pace.
As Piedmont Medical Center celebrates its growth from a kudzu field to a thriving hospital system since 1983, CEO Charlie Miller said the increasing need for health care will be the company's foremost business during the next 25 years.
"The demand is going to continue to grow," Miller said. "Keeping up with those demands placed on the system will be our greatest challenge."
Miller said the expected deluge of baby-boomers requiring care as they age, coupled with York County's rapid growth, will create a strong demand for medical care. He expects the Fort Mill hospital -- though still in planning and legal stages right now -- to grow to its maximum capacity of 250 beds in coming years. It will be built as a 100-bed center with room for expansions.
Adding to the expected demand is the county's population boom. U.S. Census figures show York County increased by more than 10,000 people in 2007. That ranked as the 19th-fastest growth in the nation. And some experts believe the Charlotte metro area will grow another 40 percent in the next decade.
Miller said the growth may create a need for a full-service hospital in western York County within the next 25 years.
That means more doctors, nurses, hospitals and medical offices will be needed to care for patients.
Miller said some progress toward meeting those needs already has begun. Since it opened, Piedmont has expanded multiple times, and its staff of physicians has grown from 57 to 360, he said. Nursing programs at York Technical College are growing. Urgent care centers have opened at Fort Mill's Baxter Village, Rock Hill's Manchester Village and off U.S. 321 in York. The hospital also owns property for a new medical center in Fort Mill, though it is still fending off legal challenges from competitors. A court date is set for December.
"We've worked hard to grow as the community has grown," Miller said.
The growing health-care sector -- a nationwide trend and not unique to York County -- is expected to be a boon for the greater local economy, too.
Herlong Avenue in Rock Hill is a good example, said Mark Farris, director of the York County Economic Development Board. Since Piedmont opened its facility there in 1983, development has sprouted all around. Restaurants, retail, medical offices and other health-care industries followed. An area once thought to be rural is now one of Rock Hill's fastest-growing corners.
"The economic impact of a hospital is substantial," Farris said.
Piedmont is the county's second-largest private employer with more than 1,600 workers. If Miller's projections are accurate, it could pass Ross distribution center in Fort Mill Township at the top of the list.
As Piedmont has grown, so has its competition. Charlotte's Carolinas HealthCare System and Presbyterian Healthcare have opened offices in York County trying to grab a share of the market. Farris said the competition has forced all three groups to expand across the county, giving residents more options.
"There's probably an underserved market in York County for health care," he said, noting area hospitals "have been quick to take advantage of the opportunity."
Miller said Piedmont's growth into the market has allowed it to improve its emergency room care -- where waiting time has often been criticized -- by building urgent care centers for minor illnesses, alleviating the ER. He said the Baxter Village center treats 70 to 80 patients daily, including many who normally would have traveled to the emergency room.
"It's (long waits in the emergency room) not unique to us," Miller said. "ERs across the country are seeing increased demand."
Miller said he hopes the number of people leaving the county for medical care will decrease as Piedmont extends its presence across the county with imaging centers, physicians' offices and other services.
"The whole idea is giving people the option to receive health care close to home."