$78M medical facility planned for Bluffton Parkway

A healthcare facility designed to rehabilitate patients who have undergone trauma or surgery is coming to Bluffton.

PACE Healthcare Commons will combine four facilities under one roof -- long-term acute care, inpatient rehabilitation, geriatric psychiatric care and a skilled nursing facility -- to keep patients from ending up back in the hospital, Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Lamkin said in a presentation to Bluffton Town Council on Tuesday.

PACE Healthcare Management is seeking capital investments from national and international groups for the $78-million facility, which will be built on Bluffton Parkway near the intersection with S.C. 170.

Part of its funding strategy includes a public/private partnership with the town. Town officials said they have been working with PACE Healthcare Management but declined to discuss details of how the two groups will partner.

The "walking mall" will create more than 300 jobs locally, according to the management group. Lamkin said the group hopes to break ground by the end of the year.

Lamkin, the former president of Hilton Head Regional Healthcare, said the planned facility has attracted national attention as a prototype.

The guiding principle is to help patients at risk of further hospitalizations to live independently. The idea could cut rising healthcare costs by preventing repeat hospital visits, especially costly trips to the emergency room, she said.

"It sounds simple but it's just not done," she said. "We need to get creative."

Lamkin said a gap in local medical services forces patients who need long-term recovery and convalescence to travel elsewhere.

Usually, hospitals that offer such follow-up care have to be located in large urban centers to be cost-effective, she said.

The Bluffton center can work because it shares overhead costs, offers four services with just one admissions process and is close to Beaufort, Savannah and Charleston, Lamkin said.

Lamkin said she made the presentation because the group is "gaining momentum".

The facility has been awarded two certificates of need from the Department of Health and Environmental Control -- a legal step that assesses the market and prevents duplicate healthcare facilities in a given area -- and must apply for two more.

Councilman Mike Raymond said the planned facility is the ideal scenario for a public/private partnership.

"This is a big deal, and it's very exciting that something like this is coming to Bluffton," he said.