Hilton Head Hospital appeals rejection of proposed Bluffton center

gmartin@islandpacket.comMarch 12, 2012 

Citing "erroneous calculations" and "misunderstood information," Hilton Head Hospital recently appealed a S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control decision rejecting its proposed outpatient center in Bluffton.

Last April, the hospital announced its intention to build an $18 million outpatient center that its president and chief executive officer Mark T. O'Neil said would be a "one-stop" medical facility near the intersection of U.S. 278 and Buck Island Road.

The proposed 60,000-square-foot, two-story building would include diagnostic imaging services, digital mammography, and a variety of adult and pediatric physical, speech and occupational therapies.

But in a Feb. 6 letter to O'Neil, a DHEC executive denied the certificate of need the hospital must have to move forward. South Carolina and most other states require proposed medical facilities to demonstrate that they are really needed before construction can begin. The intent is to control health care costs by preventing an oversupply of medical facilities.

"Staff have compared historical and projected utilization for services identified to be located at Bluffton Outpatient Center and do not conclude projected volumes are supported by historical utilization and projected population increases," wrote Beverly Brandt, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Health Facilities and Services Development.

"Furthermore, if projections are not achieved, the financial feasibility of this project is called into question," Brandt wrote.

The hospital appealed that decision Feb. 21, contending DHEC's review overstated the projected impact to existing hospital services. It also asserted the DHEC board had erroneously calculated the center's projected costs and population growth rate.

"Our opinion is that (DHEC) will approve the (certificate of need) application," hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell wrote in a statement.

"Hilton Head Hospital has been serving the Bluffton community since 1998 with its Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center," she continued. "This application is for the most part a consolidation of existing services located in the Bluffton area. It will accommodate the growth that has occurred in the time that we have been serving that community."

The debate over the center includes Savannah-based St. Joseph's/Candler Health System, which claimed the proposed outpatient center would adversely affect its Bluffton facility.

A lawyer for Hilton Head Hospital said that contention "should not have been given weight in the DHEC staff decision."

Last month, Hilton Head Hospital was engaged in a dispute with St. Joseph/Candler Bluffton. The island hospital challenged St. Joseph/Candler's plan to acquire medical equipment for its Bluffton facility, but lost.

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

Related content:

Hilton Head Hospital plans $18 million expansion in Bluffton, April 19, 2011

Hilton Head Hospital loses appeal as rift emerges between local care providers, Feb. 14, 2011

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