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Fort Mill population has almost doubled since 2006. Will new hospital be big enough?

Now that the decision has been made allowing Piedmont Medical to build a hospital in Fort Mill, will it be big enough?

It was announced on Feb. 21 that the S.C. Supreme Court had denied an appeal in the battle over who could build the new hospital, a decision that would allow Piedmont Medical Center to build. Mayor Guynn Savage expressed relief that, it appears, a hospital is on its way. Even if that hospital is one envisioned with a vastly different Fort Mill in mind.

Four hospital groups applied to build a Fort Mill site back in 2005. In May 2006, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control picked Piedmont. Legal challenges followed. At one point Carolinas HealthCare System, now Atrium Health, won the right to build. Piedmont appealed that decision and won.

And as the legal process played out, Fort Mill grew.

“Since 2006, our population has doubled, and we still didn’t have a hospital until the announcement today,” Savage said on Feb. 21. “We had a demonstrated and qualified need in 2006 for what they’re announcing today.”

U.S. Census Bureau estimates show Fort Mill had 8,966 residents in 2006. As of mid-2017, Fort Mill was home to an estimated 17,557 people. Tega Cay saw its population swell from 4,675 to 10,339. York County, which among other locales accounts for high-growth unincorporated areas like Baxter, Regent Park and Carowinds, grew from 199,035 to 266,439 residents.

The combined growth from Fort Mill and Tega Cay alone is 105 percent.

For now, Piedmont is intent on building the hospital the company applied to build to serve the Fort Mill area.

“Whatever we asked for in that certificate of need, that’s what we’re going to build,” Piedmont CEO Mark Nosacka said.

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If a hospital was needed based on the 2006 population, some might wonder whether a second hospital is warranted. According to the state, the math isn’t that easy.

“The current South Carolina Health Plan does not indicate a need for additional beds in the service area,” DHEC spokesperson Chris Delcamp said of the second hospital idea.

Nor could Piedmont simply build a bigger hospital based on the current decision. Piedmont could add beds, but it would mean yet another state request.

“The certificate of need (that allows Piedmont to build) was for a specific number of beds,” Delcamp said. “To add any additional beds, Piedmont would have to apply for the additional beds.”

Current population and projected population growth are major components in determining if a new hospital or more hospital space is needed. But so are the ways existing sites in the county are used, the age breakdown of those populations and a litany of math equations comparing those factors.

On the day he learned of the Supreme Court decision, Nosacka said his group didn’t have many details on the new hospital, including when construction might start or how long it might take. He did acknowledge the significant growth in and around Fort Mill as the court case lingered.

“This community is wonderful,” he said. “It’s growing. It needs a hospital and now it’s going to get one.”

Several people attending Piedmont’s recent celebration of the court decision also asked if the hospital decision is completely decided.

Every decision since 2006 has been followed by a legal appeal. Piedmont won initially, with two hospital groups appealing. In 2011 Carolinas HealthCare won the certificate of need with a $77.5 million, 64-bed hospital proposal. Three years later a judge overturned that decision, on Piedmont’s appeal, in favor of a $120 million, 100-bed Piedmont facility.

Rock Hill-based Piedmont won a decision in part by arguing it already had a hospital in York County and should be allowed to expand. Carolinas HealthCare won by arguing against restricting interstate commerce.

Delcamp said it isn’t up to DHEC to decide if the case is resolved in full.

“The finalization of this process is not up to DHEC, and we cannot speculate as to the next course of action for anyone involved in this matter,” he said.

Atrium, the lone group appealing Piedmont’s certificate of need, released a statement noting they are reviewing the recent decision.

“Atrium Health is disappointed by the South Carolina Supreme Court ruling regarding the proposed Fort Mill hospital, and we are reviewing the decision,” it reads. “Many York County residents have chosen, and will continue to choose, Atrium Health for their care. We remain committed to delivering the highest quality and most comprehensive services to our patients, families and the York County community, and will continue serving all of York County’s healthcare needs.”

Nosacka said the state Supreme Court deciding not to hear Atrium’s appeal is reason enough for him to believe the issue is settled.

“The Supreme Court denied the request to fight (the hospital decision),” he said. “The Supreme Court said this is over, and the Supreme Court is the law of the land,” he said.

Piedmont and Atrium are and look to remain significant players in healthcare on the Fort Mill side of the Catawba River.

York County land records show Piedmont, or parent company Tenet Healthcare, owns 21 properties in the county. Included is a 41-acre site at S.C. 160 West and U.S. 21 Bypass. Thats where Piedmont plans to build it’s hospital, purchased in 2006 for $11 million from Clear Springs Kingsley.

Piedmont properties also include two parcels combining for more than four acres on Gold Hill Road, where Piedmont recently broke ground on a new 24-hour freestanding emergency department, and four acres of existing medical facilities at North Sutton Road and Sixth Baxter Xing.

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Atrium, listed as the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Hospital Authority, owns 13 parcels of York County land. The largest is a 83-acre site at I-77 and Sutton Road, at Masons Bend.

The hospital group also owns 35 acres at Tom Hall Street and Fort Mill Parkway, much of it coming from a more than $4 million purchase in 2017. Plans then involved annexing the site into Fort Mill and putting up a more than 150,000-square-foot office building.

Beyond the hospital decision, medical space has been popping up in the area to meet the population surge. The Atrium site at Tom Hall and Fort Mill Parkway, the Piedmont freestanding emergency room and other projects join medical office additions in recent years.

The state certificate of need program that oversees hospital decisions also regulates smaller healthcare facilities.

As of January, the state certificate of need program listed 89 projects statewide at some state of submission, review or recent approval. They include three Palmetto Infusion Services specialty home health agencies and three Providence Home Health agencies — one of each in York, Lancaster and Chester counties.

Another 15 projects were listed as under appeal. That list included Carolinas Medical Center Fort Mill, the 64-bed hospital by Atrium from when an earlier hospital appeal went its way.

It doesn’t appear a second hospital is coming anytime soon in the Fort Mill area, and plans aren’t announced yet for when Piedmont might look to expand the hospital it only now is allowed to build.

“We’re just anxious to get started,” Nosacka said. “We’re going to build that hospital, and I just think great things are going to happen for people.”

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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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