A new hospital facility in the Grand Strand is now open and receiving patients. However, the group that built the hospital is not the one that will run it.
The new expanded Seacoast Regional Medical Center opened its doors near Little River last week. Seacoast originally opened in 2000 as an outpatient facility. With the completion of work last week, it now provides inpatient care as a 50-bed hospital. The hospital is owned by Loris Healthcare, a state entity that also owns Loris Hospital. While it is technically a public body, Loris receives no special government funding and has not exercised its ability to raise taxes on Horry County residents.
Recent Medicaid cuts and changes under the federal health care reform program have hurt Loris, which lost millions of dollars operating its existing hospital.
Now, the hospital’s board of commissioners has announced a partnership with Florence-based McLeod Health to let the private nonprofit run both the Loris Hospital and the new Seacoast center. However, Loris will still technically own the hospital and receive the revenue from running it. Neither side has said how much Loris is paying McLeod under the deal.
“This affiliation with McLeod will strengthen our organization by advancing clinical programs and services, supporting physician recruitment, providing operational efficiencies and allowing future growth,” said Tracy Ray, Chairman of the Loris Board of Commissioners.
The two originally tried to merge earlier this year, but because Loris is officially a state hospital, any merger would be illegal without approval by Horry County voters. Officials say letting McLeod manage the hospitals allows the partnership to happen without violating the law.
The South Carolina Legislature considered changing state law to allow the merger to take place without a voter referendum. The bill making the change passed the House earlier this year, but did not make it out of committee in the Senate. Rep. Tracy Edge sponsored the bill, warning Loris Healthcare might close if it was unable to form a long-term partnership.
Edge said the new agreement will connect the two Pee Dee hospitals until state law is changed or a referendum is held. “The benefit to McLeod (under the agreement) is that it keeps the previous partnership intact,” Edge said. Any referendum this year would have to be announced soon, however, to give organizers enough time to get it on the ballot by Election Day.
The Loris-McLeod agreement highlights the uncertainty and shifts currently occurring in the health care industry, as federal law provides incentives for larger hospital systems. Todd Atwater, a Lexington legislator who also acts as CEO of the South Carolina Medical Association said it won’t be the last partnership that tests new waters, “You’re going to see a lot more strange things in the future.”