Now that two of the region's largest hospitals have ended a dispute that threatened the creation of a $16 million medical complex in Bluffton, construction is expected to begin by year's end on Hilton Head Hospital's new outpatient center. The 60,000-square-foot center planned along U.S. 278 near Buck Island Road should open sometime in early 2014, according to hospital spokeswoman Kelly Presnell.
"Everything has been resolved, so our plans are to move forward," she said.
The outpatient center's services will include digital-imaging, digital mammography, primary care and OB/GYN care.
"The new outpatient center is, for the most part, a consolidation of the services currently offered at the Bluffton-Okatie Outpatient Center and various satellite locations throughout our service area," Presnell said.
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Plans for the center were announced in 2011, but it were delayed after Beaufort Memorial Hospital and St. Joseph's/Candler Health System in Savannah challenged the proposal. Both hospitals operate similar centers in greater Bluffton.
A state Department of Health and Environmental Control board initially rejected an application for the center, but later reversed course and approved it in March. In June, Beaufort Memorial and St. Joseph's/Candler asked the S.C. Administrative Law Court to intervene. The Beaufort hospital dropped its complaint soon afterward.
Earlier this month, St. Joseph's/Candler dropped its opposition to Hilton Head Hospital's application for a certificate of need for the center. In return, Hilton Head Hospital stopped protesting St. Joseph's/Candler's acquisition of a CT scanner without a certificate of need.
Certificates of need, which are granted by DHEC, affirm that a new medical facility or service is really needed in an area. Unneeded facilities and services can end up driving up medical costs.
In a joint statement, CEOs of both hospitals said the agreement would give residents better access to quality care.
Bluffton Mayor Lisa Sulka is grateful for the compromise. She believes "there is enough (business) to go around."
"This is what can help us with getting additional jobs in the area (and) help our graduates from college come home," she said.
Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.