Hilton Head Hospital loses appeal as rift emerges between local care providers

gmartin@islandpacket.comFebruary 14, 2012 

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Hilton Head Hospital recently lost an appeal challenging a local competitor's acquisition of medical equipment in a dispute that an attorney for the other care facility called "frivolous."

The issue stems from a request last August by the St. Joseph's/Candler imaging center in Bluffton to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to determine the cost of a new CT scanner.

According to DHEC records, the cost of the scanner -- including installation expenses -- was initially estimated at $576,000.

Hilton Head Hospital appealed Jan. 23 to the DHEC board to prevent the equipment's acquisition pending further review.

According to state law, care facilities must secure a "certificate of need" from DHEC before purchasing and installing equipment exceeding $600,000. The requirement is aimed at preventing an overabundance of medical facilities and equipment in a single geographic area.

Hilton Head Hospital's challenge contended that St. Joseph's/Candler sought the purchase without requisite state approval.

"Our due diligence and review of this project supported our appeal that the project exceeded the $600,000 threshold amount," Hilton Head Hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell said in a statement.

But last Thursday, the DHEC board denied that appeal, ruling no certificate of need was needed for the purchase.

Presnell said Tuesday the hospital has not yet decided if it will appeal.

In a letter to the DHEC board before it considered the appeal, an attorney representing St. Joseph's/Candler condemned the hospital's allegations.

"St. Joseph's/Candler contends that Hilton Head's challenge ... will constitute a frivolous appeal within the meaning of (state law), because it will be taken solely for purposes of delay or harassment, no question of law is involved, and/or the review sought by Hilton Head is without merit."

Presnell said the hospital's challenge was not a ploy to stall.

"We believe that all organizations should follow South Carolina's certificate-of-ceed process," she said. "The CON process is designed to protect community resources and safeguard access to care and quality of service."

Paul P. Hinchey, president and CEO of St. Joseph's/Candler, praised the board's ruling.

"With Bluffton's growth it was clear that the area needed another CT scanner so residents could continue to have access to the quality health care they are used to receiving," he said in a statement.

Scott Larson, a spokesman for Savannah-based St. Joseph's/Candler, said the scanner has not yet been purchased.

The diagnostic tool can detect or confirm a tumor's presence.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at Twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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