Hospital battle in Fort Mill could be over

by: Greg Suskin Updated:


FORT MILL, S.C. - On Monday, an administrative law judge ordered that Piedmont Medical Center be granted a certificate of need to build a hospital in Fort Mill.
The ruling is the latest turn in a nearly seven-year saga that began when Piedmont first applied to Department of Health and Environmental Control to build the facility in 2006.
Piedmont in Rock Hill, owned by Tenet Healthcare, had been eyeing an expansion into Fort Mill since 1999, and purchased land at the corner of Highway 160 and Highway 21 in 2005. 
Piedmont won the first battle, when DHEC chose it over Carolinas HealthCare System (which runs Carolina Medical Center), Presbyterian Hospital and Hospital Partners of America. However, court challenges followed.  
Three years later, DHEC awarded the certificate of need to CHS.  Piedmont appealed that decision to the administrative law court, which heard the lengthy case last spring.   Now, with a judge's ruling in hand, Piedmont has won back the certificate of need it was first granted in 2006. 
That was welcome news to Fort Mill resident Jim Burns.
"I think it's great.  Presbyterian and CMC were out of Charlotte, so why not use something local?" he said.
Melanie Stone was saddened at the news.
"I would've rather seen it to go CMC, and not Piedmont," she said.
Officials at Piedmont Medical Center reacted with a sense of relief.
"We are euphoric.  This has been a long time coming," said spokeswoman Amy Faulkenberry.
The hospital wasted no time launching a new website congratulating Fort Mill, and promoting the new Fort Mill Medical Center.
Part of the judge's order stated that Piedmont had been losing patients and business to Charlotte hospitals, with some 2,200 fewer patient admissions from 2005 to 2011. Piedmont had argued during the process that letting CHS build the hospital in Fort Mill would be even more damaging to its business.
Faulkenberry wanted to encourage residents to get their medical care closer to home.
"We hope this gives the citizens of Fort Mill an opportunity to stay local," she said.
On Tuesday, CHS released a statement about the court's order. 
Here is that entire statement:
Carolinas HealthCare System is surprised and disappointed that the South Carolina administrative law court did not affirm the decision of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to allow CHS to build, operate and provide care for patients at the new hospital proposed for Fort Mill.
For nearly 20 years, Carolinas HealthCare System physicians have served patients in York County, many in the Fort Mill area. For our York County patients, we pledge to continue to provide the highest quality care and service for their families' healthcare needs.
We appreciate the community's unwavering support for our efforts, and look forward to continuing our commitment to York County through the many community benefit programs we support.
Meanwhile, we plan to review the full findings from the court and make a decision in the near future on what remedies are available to Carolinas HealthCare System should we decide to pursue them and what our next steps are in the process.
Some of the reasons the judge decided in Piedmont's favor include the larger 100-bed hospital Piedmont was able to propose,  instead of the 64 beds CHS offered, and the judge said there were fewer issues with traffic and congestion with Piedmont's design as well.
Piedmont officials said it's too early to talk about when construction could begin. CHS has 30 days to appeal the judge's decision.
Such an appeal could potentially take the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court.