‘Saving people’s lives’: Why shovels in Fort Mill dirt may be vital health care step

PMC breaks ground on Fort Mill SC ER

Piedmont Medical Center broke ground on a Fort Mill SC emergency room. The site will serve Fort Mill and Tega Cay.
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Piedmont Medical Center broke ground on a Fort Mill SC emergency room. The site will serve Fort Mill and Tega Cay.

Groundbreaking ceremonies typically aren’t life or death affairs. This one may well be.

Piedmont Medical Center broke ground Wednesday morning on a new emergency room on Gold Hill Road, between Fort Mill and Tega Cay. A former restaurant at 971 Gold Hill Road will be taken down and a new medical site put up, set to serve patients by the end of the year.

“This is our first step in Piedmont Medical Center serving Fort Mill in a bigger way,” said Mark Nosacka, Piedmont CEO.

The $15 million site will have an ambulance substation, trauma bay, a dozen treatment rooms, CT, X-ray and ultrasound.

Hospital leaders want to add a helipad, but it isn’t official yet. The standalone emergency room, the first of its kind in York County and one of a handful statewide, is all about getting care to patients faster, Nosacka said.

“There’s certain emergencies where time is just of the essence,” he said. “Where minutes mean everything to people. And so this dream of opening this emergency department is about, how do we initiate care where the people are?”

Fort Mill and Tega Cay have booming populations.

Dr. Karen Jenkins, emergency department medical staff director at Piedmont, lives in Fort Mill and understands that many of the more than 75,000 patients her emergency department serves are her neighbors.

“And that volume continues to grow,” she said. “As those of us who live here in York County know, the volume here continues to grow and our footprint expands into the communities, especially here in Fort Mill.”

Eric Morrison, EMS director for Piedmont, said the 150 people with his group respond to 32,000 calls for help each year. Of those calls, about 3,800 come from the area surrounding the new emergency department.

“This gives the people in this community the opportunity to get that emergency care that much quicker,” he said. “It’s about getting people back home, to their friends, their families and their community, so they can continue to live full lives.”

Faster service, and being able to advance patients in need of higher care to it quickly, can be of vital importance, Nosacka said.

“We’re saving people’s lives that way,” he said. “That’s what this location is about.”

What the emergency room won’t do is settle the issue of whether Piedmont builds a hospital in Fort Mill.

“This is not the hospital site,” Nosacka said. “This is going to be an emergency department by itself. We’re still prepared to move forward with the new hospital as soon as they let us.”

Piedmont Medical Center CEO Mark Nosacka on the Fort Mill SC hospital decision. State courts have yet to decide.

A decision on which hospital group will build a new Fort Mill site has been a contentious one going on its second decade now.

Piedmont was awarded the right to build a Fort Mill hospital in 2006. Carolinas HealthCare (now Atrium Health) and Novant Health appealed. Carolinas HealthCare won the right, and in 2011 got permission to build a 64-bed, $77.5 million site.

Piedmont and Novant appealed. Novant later withdrew.

In 2014, a judge overturned the 2011 decision, opting for Piedmont’s $120 million, 100-bed hospital. The state court of appeals again ruled for Piedmont, and Carolinas HealthCare appealed in mid-2017 to take the issue to the state supreme court.

“We’ve had a dream of building a hospital in Fort Mill,” Nosacka said. “And on that front let me just say it. We’ve never been closer.”

Nosacka said every legal opinion in his time with Piedmont has been favorable to his group, including one from the top state court, noting the case has been going on too long already. Nosacka said he is confident Piedmont is close to getting final approval to build, though he won’t say when.

“As soon as that happens, we’ll move forward,” he said. “As quick as we can.”

With eyes toward the high-growth Fort Mill and Tega Cay areas served by the new emergency department, and perhaps a new hospital someday, Piedmont isn’t looking yet toward whether the emergency department will be one-of-a-kind or a model for similar hotbed population growth areas like Lake Wylie or Indian Land, in Lancaster County.

“It could be, but we’ve got no definite thoughts on that right now,” Nosacka said. “Healthcare is such a challenging profession to be in that today has so many challenges of its own. Today we want to break ground on this. We want to get this started. I think the needs of the people are going to lead us in the direction, and the right answers will come to us later.”

Piedmont, which opened its Rock Hill hospital in 1983, is taking its “next step forward in us serving the broader community” with the new emergency department, Nosacka said.

“What we’re looking to be able to do is provide access to emergency care in the neighborhoods in which we live,” Jenkins said.

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John Marks covers community growth, municipalities and general news mainly in the Fort Mill and York County areas. He began writing for the Herald and sister papers in 2005 and won dozens of South Carolina Press Association and other awards since.
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