HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – Hospitals in Horry County served more than 500,000 patients amid the pandemic in 2020, uncovering a need for continued expansion of health care offerings and facilities in the area.
The 2020 South Carolina Health Plan projects Horry County needing an additional 155 hospital beds by 2024. That demand not only stems from a shift in patient demographics but also the large number of people anticipated to make a move to Horry County in the coming years.
Debra Herrmann, who lives in Surfside Beach, felt the effects of that growing demand herself when she became ill in January and had to visit a local emergency room.
“They were so busy that I could hear the nurse’s station – the room I was in – and every time they hung up from a call, another call would come in. It was a constant barrage of calls. It took probably several hours where it should’ve taken 30 minutes,” she recalled.
However, she gives hospital staff credit for their hustle through an otherwise busy day.
“The nurses and doctors were so attentive that they’d keep coming in and making sure I was OK and apologizing that they were just so overwhelmed with calls. They couldn’t stop and take care of everybody individually,” she said.
Health care systems with hospitals in Horry County – including Conway Medical Center, McLeod Health, and Grand Strand Health – have collectively invested more than $600 million in Horry County since 2015. Those investments include new facilities, expanded services, health care providers, and the latest technology.
Tidelands Health, meanwhile, has invested $90.7 million in recent years. While officials say approximately 60% of patients it serves are from Horry County, its hospitals are located in Georgetown County. However, it has a number of medical offices and complexes in Horry County.
McLeod Health Seacoast Administrator Monica Vehige says its health system is taking a proactive approach to growth through a strategic plan that looks at the county’s future through 2030. Board members are expected to see those results this month. McLeod Health projections for its two Horry County facilities — McLeod Loris and McLeod Seacoast — tell the story.
“What we projected that was going to be the case in 2023, we actually hit in 2018. We’re seeing (patient counts) about five years prior to what the projection is,” she explained.
Average bed occupancy nearly doubled in two years at McLeod Loris and McLeod Seacoast from 80 to 140. Occupancy was also up at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center to 181,500 patients served in 2020 and Conway Medical Center to 285,785.
“If you would have told me we would have started hitting that 100 % growth, even if it was five times a month, I would’ve lost every bed available,” she said.
Getting a hospital up and running is much easier said than done, Vehige explained during an interview with News13. The planning process, alone, can take years — between getting the state to approve a Certificate of Need, a potential appeals process, land acquisition, and permits.
She says a slowdown in that process could have unintended consequences for you in the future.
“If we don’t start approving beds, we’re going to be the second-largest county (in South Carolina) with not enough beds,” she explained, when discussing future population demographics in Horry County.
There are several projects across the area’s major health systems to address that need and an uptick in demand for outpatient services. Health systems told News13 a big goal of these projects is to give patients — current and future — better access to health services in or near their community.
– McLeod Seacoast received approval to add 50 additional beds to its patient tower it expanded in 2018. It is also waiting on state approval to build a 48-bed hospital at its Carolina Forest medical complex.
– Conway Medical Center’s certificate of need was recently approved by the state for the transfer of 50 beds from its main hospital on Singleton Ridge Road to a new facility it intends to build off International Drive.
– Grand Strand Health is building a $10 million emergency facility in front of Carolina Forest, near US-501.
– Tidelands Health is waiting on approval for its certificate of need to construct its proposed 36-bed Tidelands Health Carolina Bays Hospital in Socastee in the area of the SC-707 and SC-31 interchange. It also has plans in the works for a new 34,000-square-foot Tidelands Health Medical Park at Carolina Forest, which will have a large focus on oncology services physician offices, and outpatient services, off Carolina Forest Boulevard.
“You can have all the beds you want, but if you don’t have the staff to take care of them — the nurses, the medical assistants — a bed doesn’t do you any good without the staff,” she said. “It’s really a double-edged sword.”
While having these projects on the books is a step in the right direction, Vehige says talent acquisition is going to be just as important. Health systems across the country continue to battle staffing issues and shortages, as News13 has previously reported.
“There’s a national shortage of nurses,” she explained. “There’s a national shortage of physicians, so we’re competing with regions across the country on how to get talent here. It’s important that as planners, we get ahead of that curve and not wait for the growth to be here.”
Attracting that top-tier talent to Horry County must also coincide with the expansion of medical services and offerings tailored to patient need and demographics.
News13 reached out to the area’s health systems to see how services have evolved in our area since 2015. Health systems say demographics and changes in Horry County’s population have driven a greater focus on oncology, rehabilitation, cardiac and stroke care, trauma, and rehabilitation.
New services at Conway Medical from 2015-2020:
- Cancer care
- Interventional cardiology
- Residency program
- Residency primary care
- Robotic surgery
- 3D mammography
- Mobile mammography center
- Hernia institute
- Vascular institute
- Orthopedics practice
- Sports medicine
- Telemedicine in pulmonology/critical care neurology and cardiology
New services at McLeod Loris Seacoast from 2015-2020:
- Dialysis access center at McLeod Loris
- Hybrid operating room – Vascular at McLeod Seacoast
- Cardiac catheterization lab at McLeod Seacoast
- Electrophysiology lab at McLeod Seacoast
- Robotics – general surgery, women’s, orthopedics
- Outpatient imaging and lab at McLeod Carolina Forest
- Outpatient therapy – pediatrics, OT, PT, etc. at McLeod Carolina Forest
- Upgraded radiology equipment
New services at Grand Strand Health from 2015-2020:
- daVinci robotic surgery program
- Graduate medical education program for new physician residents
- Transcatheter aortic valve replacement procedure
- Mazor robotics spine surgery program
- Level 1 adult and Level 2 pediatric trauma center designation
- 3D mammography
- Behavioral health unit
- Cancer care center
- Maternal fetal medicine program
- Comprehensive stroke center certification
Tidelands Health services offered at 14 locations in Horry Co.:
- Family medicine
- Outpatient rehabilitation
- Pain management
Herrmann, who also cares for her mother, says she’s glad to see more services closer to home, and hopes that continues.
“It would be wonderful to have those people here in Horry County so we didn’t have to drive to Charleston or to Columbia or to Duke or wherever it might be,” she said.
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No matter the angle you take, though, the future of health care in Horry County has evolved faster than many thought, and our local health systems are responding.
“It’s time to do something now,” Herrmann said.