Hilton Head Hospital's outpatient center opens in Bluffton

dburley@islandpacket.comJanuary 14, 2014 

Nearly a year after construction began, Hilton Head Hospital's new Bluffton outpatient center off U.S. 278 officially opened Tuesday.

Hospital executives, doctors and local officials touted the 60,000-square-foot center's health care offerings and central location during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

"It's a hospital without beds," Hilton Head Regional Healthcare CEO Mark O'Neil said. "We tried to build an all-services-in-one location that's patient-friendly in every way."

The $18-million campus has plenty of high-tech medical gear. It houses a breast-cancer health center, cardiac services, primary care physicians, and adult and pediatric physical, speech and occupational therapies. It boasts diagnostic imaging services that include breast imaging, CT scans, nuclear medicine, ultrasounds and radiography. In addition, the Coastal Carolina Hospital's Center for Hyperbarics and Wound Healing has relocated to the location.

Hospital officials say the services make the center a one-stop shop for outpatient care and improve collaboration among physicians treating the same patient.

"With the exception of surgery, patients can get almost everything here," said Tom Neal, Hilton Head Hospital chief operating officer, who led visitors around the campus Tuesday. "And that's key, because collaboration is so important in health care. Nobody has all the answers."

Dr. Jason Snyder, a radiologist who specializes in breast imaging at the center, said such collaboration is essential when treating cancer patients.

"Breast cancer is complicated, and it's important to talk to other doctors," he said. He can look at an image and walk down the hall to talk to Dr. Virginia Hermann , the breast-health center director, "so it's made things easier."

If having doctors from various fields in the same location has simplified things for physicians, hospital executives said the campus location -- 12 miles from Coastal Carolina Hospital and 11 miles from Hilton Head Hospital -- has benefited Lowcountry patients seeking accessible care.

"We looked at a number of sites, and this really was the most visible, the most centrally located," Neal said. "If you look at traffic counts, Buck Island Road and 278 is the busiest intersection in the area."

Neal also emphasized the size of the property -- 12 acres -- as ideal for expansion. O'Neil, the CEO, said an MRI facility, urgent care center and oncology clinic are potential additions, although no timetable has been set.

Open for patients since November, the Bluffton campus has taken over many services previously offered at the Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center, which will remain open for primary care, ambulatory surgery and adult physical rehabilitation, said Kelly Presnell, spokeswoman for Hilton Head Regional Healthcare.

The new outpatient center was first announced in 2011, but its development was delayed for several months after Beaufort Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah challenged the proposal. Both hospitals already operated similar centers in the Bluffton area.

The new center received regulatory approval, and the rival hospitals eventually dropped their opposition. Hilton Head Hospital also stopped protesting St. Joseph's/Candler's acquisition of a CT scanner without a certificate of need.

Certificates of need, which are granted by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, affirm that a new medical facility or service is needed in an area.

Video tour of the new Bluffton Medical Campus (1:23)

A tour of the new Bluffton Medical Campus led by Tom Neal, chief operating officer at Hilton Head Hospital, on Jan. 14, 2014. Theophil Syslo

Follow reporter Dan Burley on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Dan.

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