The ruling by S.C. Administrative Law Court Judge Phillip Lenski that Piedmont Medical Center may go ahead and start building a hospital in Fort Mill is a landmark in this 10-year-old dispute. But don’t look for construction to begin any time soon.
Lenski’s decision upholds his March opinion that said Rock Hill’s PMC is the most qualified applicant for a certificate of need from the state. The certificate is a requirement before new hospitals and other medical facilities can be built in South Carolina.
Carolinas HealthCare System, based in Charlotte, also has been vying for the certificate. PMC initially received approval from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, but CHS successfully appealed and, after a court-ordered review, was awarded the certificate by DHEC.
After PMC appealed to the S.C. Administrative Law Court, Lenski overruled DHEC’s decision in March and then again on Monday, giving PMC the go-ahead. CHS, which had appealed Lenski’s March order, said in a statement Monday that it was disappointed and is considering what “our next steps are in the process.”
That is a good indication that CHS is not ready to pack up and go home. Its options include an appeal to the S.C. Court of Appeals and perhaps, ultimately, to the state Supreme Court.
CHS also could take its case to federal court. Whatever the outcome there, it could be appealed by either party to the Court of Federal Appeals and even, ultimately, to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In other words, this legal battle, already more than a decade old, could drag on for many more years.
Lenski’s decision, which upheld his March opinion, cited potential economic harm to PMC if CHS moves into the lucrative Fort Mill market. The judge also stressed PMC’s commitment to serving York County, concluding that awarding the certificate to CHS would adversely affect the quality of medical care offered throughout the county.
CHS officials counter that its health care system has been providing excellent service to patients in York County, including Fort Mill, for more than 20 years. They pledge to continue that service if permitted to build the hospital in Fort Mill.
While many York County residents may favor one party over another in this fight, many others no doubt simply want to see the conflict resolved and the new hospital built. It is understandable that one of the most heavily and densely populated parts of the county would want a hospital nearby to serve its needs.
Unfortunately, it looks like that hospital could be a long time coming.