MUSC Health, the clinical enterprise of the Medical University of South Carolina, has signed a letter of intent with Lake City Community Hospital and Williamsburg Regional Hospital that authorizes MUSC to construct, own and operate a new $50 million replacement hospital. The new hospital will be a 25-bed critical access facility, providing care through traditional on-site delivery as well as through virtual visits via the extensive MUSC Telehealth Network.
Critical access hospitals serve small, rural populations and receive cost-based adjusted reimbursements for Medicare services. These cost adjustments help to stabilize rural hospitals, making them less vulnerable to financial issues. The cost-based reimbursements also improve access to much-needed health care, ensuring that essential services are available and sustainable in rural communities.
The new MUSC Health facility will serve the health care needs of the Lower Florence County Hospital District, other areas of Florence, residents of Williamsburg County, as well as neighbors from other adjacent counties. When the new MUSC facility opens, both Lake City Community Hospital and Williamsburg Regional Hospital will transfer all operations for inpatient and outpatient services to the new MUSC hospital.
“Maintaining and expanding access to health care in rural areas across our state is a challenge that my administration is committed to addressing head on,” said Gov. Henry McMaster. “With tremendous partners like MUSC, the innovation and creativity that is required to succeed in this endeavor is on full display. We can all be encouraged by what today’s news means for the future of health care in Williamsburg and Florence counties, and grateful for what MUSC’s commitment to seeing a healthier South Carolina means for our future.”
“MUSC is charged with preserving and optimizing the health of the people of our state through education, research and patient care,” said MUSC President David J. Cole, M.D., FACS. “To fulfill our mission, we must be ready to serve patients across the expanse of the Palmetto State, not just in urban areas.”
“Through our many affiliations with community and regional hospitals, and through our extended telehealth network, MUSC Health has established meaningful, life-saving collaborations and outreach across the state,” said MUSC Health CEO Patrick J. Cawley. M.D. “The restoration of a critical access hospital in this rural community and the added connectivity to MUSC specialists and resources will benefit the lives of everyone in the area.”
“We are excited by the Medical University of South Carolina’s continued commitment to rural health care and I am hopeful that this partnership will preserve and improve access to vital primary and critical care services in the region,” said Joshua Baker, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “We are proud to support this rural transformation endeavor and continue our commitment to improving the health of all South Carolinians.”
A replacement hospital is desperately needed in Williamsburg County due to the October 2015 thousand-year floods in Kingstree, S.C., the county seat of Williamsburg and location of Williamsburg Regional Hospital. More than three years ago, some 31 inches of rainfall caused massive flooding throughout the area. Torrents of water inside the hospital building, multiplied by standing water and black mold, damaged the Williamsburg Regional Hospital building beyond repair, rendering the structure unsafe and unusable.
Determined not to abandon the citizens of Williamsburg County and the surrounding area, the leadership and providers of Williamsburg Regional Hospital have been operating a temporary hospital to serve patients since April 2016. Modular housing units serve as emergency, exam and other patient care rooms; however, a long-term solution had to be found.
“This collaboration with MUSC opens the door to a new model for rural health care, one that leverages telehealth and advanced practice providers,” said Julie Floyd, chair of the board for Williamsburg Regional Hospital. “This partnership is the right step to take for the state and for our friends and neighbors in the city and region.”
Like many other rural health care facilities, Lake City Community Hospital has also experienced financial challenges. Its leaders are working diligently to balance the uncertainties of the future with the need to expand access to health care for its citizens. For small community hospitals, the threats to long-term viability are all too real due to significant declines in both rural populations and hospital admissions.
“Our hospital has always maintained a focus on delivering the best care available to our patients and families,” said Scotty Campbell, chair of the board for Lake City Community Hospital. “To extend that focus, we must recognize the added value that MUSC Health brings to the equation. Collaborating on a new hospital to serve our friends and neighbors is the most logical, productive and fiscally responsible solution possible.”
The people served by Lake City Community Hospital and Williamsburg Regional Hospital have a history of social, economic and, to some degree, political connections dating from pre-revolutionary war times to present day. The concept of establishing a new hospital facility to serve the patient base of both community hospitals has been discussed periodically since the 1950s when the two community hospitals were being created. Bringing these discussions to fruition appears to be the most appropriate method to meet the needs of both hospitals and their patient base most effectively.
Funding options for the new MUSC Health facility in the Williamsburg and Florence communities are currently being explored. The location for the new hospital has not been finalized; however, several options are under review. Construction of the new hospital is expected to take between 24 and 36 months, thus the opening date is projected as fall 2022.
At this juncture, no decisions have been made about the disposition of either of the old hospital buildings in Kingstree and Lake City. In the coming months, leaders from MUSC, Lake City Community Hospital and Williamsburg Regional Hospital will be involved in the decision-making.
MUSC works diligently to fulfill its mission through prudent financial management, dedicated philanthropic support and strategic business growth. Roughly 60 percent of all MUSC Health patient care revenues are generated from statewide communities outside of the Tri-county area, while the remaining 40 percent of patient care revenues are driven by services delivered within the tri-county market (Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties).