Beaufort News

Court asked to rule on SC's program for new hospitals, nursing homes

If no one enforces a law, do you have to follow it?

That's the question that will likely be before the S.C. Supreme Court after the state Department of Health and Environmental Control filed a lawsuit Monday over the state's certificate of need program.

In South Carolina, new hospitals or nursing homes cannot open, and they, along with doctors, cannot make big equipment purchases unless DHEC says they can. State law requires any new hospital or nursing home to have a certificate of need, and DHEC is the state agency that reviews and approves those applications.

But last week, Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the $1.7 million DHEC spends to enforce the state's certificate of need law. On Friday, DHEC director Catherine Templeton officially suspended the program, telling hospitals and nursing homes they could do whatever they want. In a letter, Templeton promised not to penalize health care providers who expand while the program is suspended "unless instructed otherwise by the General Assembly."

That letter has caused confusion among some of the state's largest health care providers who are locked in expensive disputes over various pending projects.

On Monday, DHEC sued the S.C. Hospital Association and the S.C. Health Care Association -- the trade groups for state hospitals and nursing homes -- as a vehicle for the state Supreme Court to settle the matter.

It appears the lawsuit had its intended effect, as several health care providers told The State newspaper on Monday they would not be rushing to complete their projects.

Some lawmakers have called for the legislature to come back to Columbia for a special session to either restore the program's funding or eliminate the law requiring a certificate of need.