Hilton Head Hospital overcame competitors' objections and won its appeal with a state agency to build an outpatient center in Bluffton.
The hospital announced Friday it received approval from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control to build an $18 million outpatient center near U.S. 278 and Buck Island Road.
The 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, hospital officials said.
A DHEC executive in February denied the project's certificate of need. South Carolina and most other states require those proposing to build medical facilities to demonstrate they are needed in the area they would serve, an attempt to control health care costs and ensure quality service.
Beverly Brandt, chief of DHEC's Bureau of Health Facilities and Services Development, argued that past and projected demand did not support the new facility.
The hospital appealed Feb. 21, asserting that DHEC overstated the project's impact to existing hospital services and miscalculated the center's projected costs and the area's growing elderly population, which will drive demand for services.
What's more, all but two services -- a 32-slice CT scanner and nuclear medicine camera -- will simply be relocated to provide "a more centralized site for outpatient services," Tom Neal, a hospital vice president, said in a written statement.
The DHEC board voted in early March to send the issue back to agency staff for more work.
DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said the agency approved the center after reviewing corrected budget projections and other materials attesting to the hospital's "financial soundness."
"The 'one-stop-shop' concept promotes cost (control) and accessibility," he wrote in an email. "Expansion of existing services and the addition of new services not offered in the area (such as CT and nuclear medicine) does not result in unnecessary duplication. The state-of-the-art equipment and consolidation of services will best serve public needs."
Beaufort Memorial Hospital and Savannah-based St. Joseph's/Candler Health System objected to the outpatient center, saying it would adversely affect their operations.
Hilton Head Hospital challenged St. Joseph/Candler's plan to acquire medical equipment for its Bluffton facility, in an ongoing rift between local care providers. It lost that battle.
"We are aware of the decision, and we will be reviewing our options," St. Joseph's/Candler president and CEO Paul P. Hinchey said in an email Friday.
St. Joseph's/Candler could file a request for final review by the DHEC board, which would halt construction, Myrick said.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka called the center an "exciting, major project that will be great for Bluffton."
"It will enhance the convenience of high quality health care services for our residents, create a substantial number of new job opportunities" making Bluffton a better place to live, Sulka said in a news release.
Hospital officials said the current Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center will continue to provide primary health care and ambulatory surgery for surrounding neighborhoods, including Sun City Hilton Head. Wound-care services at Coastal Carolina Hospital in Hardeeville will be moved to the new location, Neal said.
Construction of the outpatient center is expected to take 18 months and will start as soon as possible, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell said.