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Bluffton residents will soon have a shorter drive to an emergency room

An artist's rendering depicts the Coastal Carolina Hospital freestanding emergency department facility that is planned for the corner of S.C. 170 and Tidewatch Drive.
An artist's rendering depicts the Coastal Carolina Hospital freestanding emergency department facility that is planned for the corner of S.C. 170 and Tidewatch Drive. Coastal Carolina Hospital

In response to the Hardeeville area’s budding population, Coastal Carolina Hospital is moving forward with a plan to build a $15 million freestanding emergency department.

The proposed 10,000-square-foot facility will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and will feature 12 private treatment areas, including one trauma treatment room.

Facility staff will provide a full range of emergency medical services, as well as laboratory and radiology services such as CT scans, ultrasounds and X–rays, according to the master plan.

The facility is planned for roughly 29 acres at the intersection of S.C. 170 and Tidewatch Drive, abutting to Sun City Hilton Head. It is expected to bring at least 25 new jobs to the area.

“With the dynamic changes happening within healthcare and the continued need for readily available and easily accessible emergency services, we believe this is the right project at the right time,” said Joel Taylor, chief executive officer for Coastal Carolina Hospital.

The planned facility, which is expected to open by summer 2019, will be the sixth freestanding emergency department in South Carolina and the first in the Lowcountry, according to Taylor.

Freestanding emergency departments are said to be more convenient and produce shorter wait times than traditional emergency departments.

“We’re excited about this project, and we really believe this service line and facility will fill a significant need for the community and the people we serve,” Taylor said.

’Growing by leaps and bounds’

Two large-scale developments are expected to cause the population in the Bluffton and Hardeeville area to surge in the coming years.

  • The East Argent development, the largest planned development in Hardeeville’s history, is projected to add 9,500 homes, 1.5 million square feet of commercial space and about 20,000 new residents to the city—more than quadrupling its current population.
  • Latitude Margaritaville Hilton Head, a new development for 55 and older retirees, will add about 3,000 homes to the southern tip of Hilton Head Lakes on U.S. 278.

“That corridor right there is just growing by leaps and bounds, and this project (the freestanding emergency department) was born out of that need and the overarching growth in the area,” Taylor said.

As more residents flock to the area and the current population continues to grow older, increased strains are placed on local healthcare.

Coastal Carolina Hospital’s existing emergency department has grown significantly over the last few years, dealing with nearly 22,000 visits in 2017.

“It’s the busiest 41-bed hospital I’ve ever been at,” Taylor said.

The freestanding emergency department will not only increase access to care for local residents, it will also alleviate capacity constraints at the hospital, according to Taylor.

Coastal Carolina purchased the 29-acre plot of land in May 2017 and received a certificate of need for the project from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control in October 2017.

The facility’s master plan was approved by the City of Hardeeville Planning Commission in March and is expected to gain final approval at the Hardeeville City Council meeting Thursday.

Hardeeville Mayor Henry Williams said the planned facility has full support from the city council members.

“First of all, it’s right at the gate of a senior community that has a grand total of 8,000 homes,” Williams said. “And lets face it, there’s a lot of seniors in this area that need constant and immediate healthcare, so this gives us another venue for fast and competent care.”

Some concerns were raised about the additional traffic coming and going off of S.C. 170, but Williams doesn’t expect that to cause “any major hiccups”, he said.

“There are two entrances and two exits on 170 and on Tidewatch, so there are a lot of options,” Williams said. “We’ll just ask some questions (at Thursday’s meeting) and make sure everyone is comfortable that the exit onto and off of 170 is safe.”

In the meantime, Williams is looking forward to the many benefits the facility is set to bring to the growing community.

“It’s just something that the community— and I’ve been talking with the community about this for months now — is really looking forward to,” he said. “This will be an asset for everyone.”

This is not the only new medical facility planned to meet the area’s rapid population growth.

In January, the Medical University of South Carolina and Beaufort Memorial Hospital announced plans to open a 20-bed “micro hospital” in Okatie Crossing at U.S. 278 and S.C. 170. Beaufort Memorial officials expect to break ground on the medical office building in June and finish construction by September 2019.