Barnwell County’s only hospital will close its doors, possibly for good, on Thursday.
Southern Palmetto Hospital announced in a statement Tuesday that it will temporarily end patient operations. The release pledged to seek alternatives for healthcare, but warned no set plans are in the future for now.
Hospital officials blamed a decline in patients and resulting loss of revenue. Southern Palmetto said it lost $2.5 million last year alone.
State Senator Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said not only will it affect medical care in his district, but also it will disrupt the lives for one of the small county’s largest employers. “140 employees have been given their notices, they’ll be given two weeks severance pay,” Hutto said on the Senate floor Thursday.
“This is a hospital that has served our community for sixty years,” Hutto said.
The nearest hospital for Barnwell town residents is Allendale County, located about 30 minutes away. Others hospitals in Aiken and Orangeburg would be a 45 minute drive from Southern Palmetto’s location.
Southern Palmetto is the third rural hospital in South Carolina to close since 2011, following Bamberg County Hospital in Bamberg and Marlboro Park Hospital in Bennettsville.
Democrats in the South Carolina Statehouse have sought to make a political issue out of the closings, noting they come as legislative Republicans and Gov. Nikki Haley refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility requirements. “While Gov. Haley sticks to her partisan loyalties, she is ignoring the real problems South Carolinians are facing,” SC Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison said in a release. “South Carolina Democrats are committed to improving the lives of our fellow citizens by expanding access to healthcare, repairing our aging and damaged infrastructure, and educating our future leaders.”
But GOP lawmakers have countered rural hospitals are facing the problems of declining populations and changes under the Affordable Care Act that incentivize larger healthcare networks.