TRAVELERS REST – Almost a year after a group of community leaders and elected officials came together with a shared mission of bringing emergency room services back to the northern sections of Greenville County, a plan to develop a new free standing medical facility for the region has arrived.
A partnership between Bon Secours Mercy Health, MUSC and Greenville County has put together a plan for a freestanding emergency room that would be part of a healthcare enterprise zone in North Greenville.
Enterprise zones are public-private partnerships that frequently involve land, tax credits and other tax incentives provided by local governments to entice private companies to invest and participate in initiatives serving various community needs. For the healthcare enterprise zone to occur, a one-time financial investment of $20 million will be needed from Greenville County Council.
“The Travelers Rest and North Greenville communities have unique healthcare needs that include improved access to emergency services for residents who live in remote areas and sustained strategies to develop, attract and retain healthcare workers,” said State Rep. Mike Burns, who has helped put together the many facets of the proposal. “While piecemeal projects might suffice in the short term, North Greenville would benefit from a more organized strategy prepared to also address future needs.”
Northern Greenville County residents have an “access to healthcare” dilemma, he said. Because of its spread-out population across large swaths of the county, it has had difficulty supporting its acute care hospital. As a result, Travelers Rest’s only ER, a facility in operation for more than 40 years, closed its doors in November 2020.
Following this closure, a group called the Emergency Services Work Group was formed to study options to address emergency services in North Greenville. That work group was comprised of healthcare providers, representatives from the county, regional hospital administrators and experts in remote/telehealth medicine, Burns said.
County Councilman Joe Dill said it was the work of this group that helped lead to the enterprise zone concept.
As charged, the work group focused solely on the facilities in North Greenville. However, key members of the group quickly became aware of perhaps a bigger issue impacting the emergency care problem in these communities, the unprecedented staff and provider shortages driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“While an obvious solution to the ‘access to healthcare’ dilemma in North Greenville might be to simply replace the previous ER by working with another healthcare system, the replacement facility will no doubt face the same financial challenges as the previous one,” Dill said.
The Emergency Services Work Group determined Bon Secures Mercy Health would own and operate the freestanding emergency room, MUSC would provide the medical staff and county council would provide the one time capital support if funds are available. A five-year outlook was completed and it shows the emergency room would be financially sustainable if Bon Secours Mercy Health assumes the long term financial risk for operating the facility, the MUSC telehealth medical staff is implemented and the county provides upfront capital for the land and build the facility. This assumed that the emergency room would run twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, would see 7,000 visits a year and would have ten patient care bays and would occupy up to 11,000 square feet on approximately 15 acres of land. The capital cost to build the facility would be approximately $18 million.
“In the case of a health enterprise zone for North Greenville, government incentives would entice private regional health systems, doctors, workforce development partners such as universities and technical colleges, and private businesses to participate,” Burns said.
The freestanding ER could be an initial ‘anchor tenant’ for a healthcare enterprise zone for the community, he said. If so, the enterprise zone would need at least 30 to 40 acres additional to the proposed 15 acres for the freestanding ER. Later additions to the enterprise zone might include diagnostic and therapeutic health facilities like radiology and ambulatory surgery as well as physician offices.
Travelers Rest Mayor Brandy Amidon says this will be a major project for the City and the greater northern Greenville county community. “This is an amazing and dynamic opportunity for our entire region to have access to emergency services closer to home,” Amidon said. “The potential positive impact of this project will be felt for generations.”