MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina lawmakers will once again consider getting rid of part of the approval process for new health care facilities across the state.
A bill in the State Senate would remove the Certificate of Need review process for most health care facilities in South Carolina. Only nursing homes would have to go through DHEC for approval.
Appeals associated with the current Certificate of Need process are slowing down a few hospital projects in Horry County, where DHEC said more than 100 additional hospital beds are needed to account for growth.
The Certificate of Need process is holding up plans for South Strand Medical Center becoming a full-fledged hospital.
The medical center received approval from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to become a full-fledged hospital in July 2021, which still hasn’t happened because that process allows for challenges from competing health care providers — ultimately slowing down each other’s expansions.
State Sen. Greg Hembree (R-North Myrtle Beach) said the bill will be high on the Senate’s list of priorities.
“I supported the reform effort last year,” Hembree said. “I will once again support that. I think we’ll take it up early in the session as well. I know that’s the plan for the Senate to take that up either second or third because we’ve already debated it, we’ve already passed that particular version. We feel like the vote’s there to do it again.”
Local health care systems said the process needs to be reformed and not repealed. McLeod Health said the review process protects rural areas.
“That’s what we want is to have that be an equitable playing field where we’re all following the same rules,” said Lesli McGee, chief strategy officer with McLeod Health.
McLeod wants to build a 48-bed facility in Carolina Forest. Tidelands Health plans for 36 beds in Socastee, while Grand Strand Health eyes an upgrade of its South Strand Medical Center with nearly 60 new beds.
All three projects were given the green light by DHEC in July 2021, but all have stalled in litigation as competing systems file appeals.
“I think that what that speaks to is the need for reform,” McGee said. “We’re all trying to work within the rules the way they were written, and I don’t believe that anybody that is in the midst of this in the state is not trying to work within the rules. I think we are all trying to do what’s there. I’m not sure that what’s there is what’s needed for now.”
Grand Strand Health said reform should go beyond health care facilities.
“If we want to purchase and replace an existing MRI or buy a new MRI, we’d have to file a Certificate of Need to go through that process with the department of health,” Grand Strand Health CEO Mark Sims said. “We think that should be included in the reform as well.”
The South Carolina Hospital Association is also pushing for reform.
Conway Medical Center told News13 in a statement the Certificate of Need protects independent hospitals from “large, aggressive competitors.”
Conway Medical Center received final state approval for a 50-bed hospital in Carolina Forest in November, 20 months after initial approval — most of that time spent in litigation.
“I think that’s probably the biggest hang-up with the existing Certificate of Need is the length of time that it takes health care systems to be able to add to existing services in the marketplace,” Sims said.
A similar bill passed the Senate last year, but died in the House.
“We got pretty close last year, and it feels like we’re closer still,” Hembree said.
The new legislative session begins on Tuesday.