Proposed Bluffton outpatient center faces newest hurdle

gmartin@islandpacket.comJune 26, 2012 

  • TIMELINE:

    Sept. 27: Town of Bluffton staff reviews plans for proposed Hilton Head Hospital outpatient center

    Feb. 16: DHEC board rejects center

    March 29: DHEC reverses decision and approves center after Hilton Head Hospital appeals

    May 8: DHEC board upholds center's approval at final review conference

    June 19: S.C. Administrative Law Court receives letters requesting hearing from Beaufort Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph's/Candler Health System

Hilton Head Hospital's plan to build an outpatient center in Bluffton have hit yet another snag.

Last week, Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Savannah-based St. Joseph's/Candler Health System requested a hearing before the S.C. Administrative Law Court to object to the proposed $18 million center that would be built near the intersection of U.S. 278 and Buck Island Road.

Both opposing hospitals operate similar centers in Bluffton and have contended since last fall that not enough local demand exists to warrant a new center, which they say would be financially unfeasible.

But on May 8, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control board upheld its earlier decision to allow the center.

In its letter to the S.C. Administrative Law Court, St. Joseph's/Candler alleges DHEC staff violated 19 procedural-protocol and due-process requirements in reaching that decision.

"(DHEC)'s decision was arbitrary and capricious," the letter reads, "(and) clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record."

The Administrative Law Court, which hears cases arising from decisions made by state regulatory agencies, is unlikely to announce a hearing date within the next two months, according to court clerk Jana Shealy.

"Cases like this can certainly have complex discovery issues," she explained, adding the case has been filed and will be assigned this week to a judge.

Mark O'Neil, president of Hilton Head Regional Healthcare, a network encompassing Hilton Head Hospital and other facilities, was undeterred by the latest setback.

"We are confident that the regulatory process will result in an outcome that will be best for the Bluffton community, especially given the unanimous vote in our favor by the S.C. (DHEC) board back in May," he wrote in a statement.

"This project will bring a very positive improvement to the Bluffton community's ability to provide improved access to health care for its growing population."

The DHEC board initially rejected the center Feb. 16, but reversed that decision March 29 following an appeal by Hilton Head Hospital.

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.

The center would also house the Genesis Clinic, currently at 1 Burnt Church Road in Bluffton, which provides prenatal care for the local Hispanic population.

The outpatient center has the support of Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka, who called it "an exciting, major project that will be great for Bluffton."

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