Healthcare Enterprise Zone Proposed For Northern Greenville County
In 2020 Prisma Health officials closed the emergency room at North Greenville Hospital and created void of emergency medical services in Travelers Rest and the remainder of northern Greenville County. Prisma said the closure was a financial based decision and claimed the emergency room was being used for services that could have been handled at doctor offices or urgent treatment centers. Emergency services were routed to downtown Greenville such as the emergency room at Greenville Memorial Hospital where, in recent weeks, eleven hour wait times were reported by patients. Add the fact that Greenville County EMS is struggling to serve the entire county and 25 to 45 minute wait times for ambulances due to employee shortages and you have a picture of a emergency services disaster. In one example of a particular incident just a few weeks ago an emergency developed in the River Falls community. First responders from River Falls Fire Department were dispatched as well as Greenville County EMS. EMS dispatchers notified the first responders there would be a 45 minuted estimated time of arrival for the ambulance. The first responders asked Greenville County EMS to try to contact Pickens County and request one of their ambulances to the scene.
All of this is coming at a time when Greenville County population has increased almost 25% over the past decade and is growing at a rate of 2.5% per year. Travelers Rest alone is experiencing unparalleled residential and commercial development and finds itself without a viable healthcare strategy for the future. In recent times a group of elected officials from northern Greenville County called for the formation of an Emergency Services Work Group to study options that address emergency services in our portion of the county. The group was made up of health care providers, representatives from Greenville County, regional hospital administrators and experts in remote telehealth medicine. The result of that study is a proposal for the creation of a healthcare enterprise zone in northern Greenville County. The first phase or element of the enterprise zone would be a freestanding emergency room through a partnership between Bon Secours Mercy Health, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and Greenville County. Bon Secours Mercy Health and MUSC are on board for the proposal. Greenville County Council is needed to provide a one time financial investment of $20 million for the purchase of land and start up costs. These funds could come from the county's federal Covid fund. The investment would spark a return to the local economy of two to seven times the amount of the amount invested. The investment would quickly pay for itself and yield additional regional benefits for years to come.
So, what is a health enterprise zone? Health enterprise zones are public and private partnerships that involve land, tax credits and other tax initiatives serving community needs. In the local case, government incentives would entice private regional health systems, doctors, workforce development partners such as universities and technical colleges and private businesses to participate. Synergies are created that result in clinical, economic and workforce development enhancements for the community such as job creations, better health care access, improved quality of care and community economic development.
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.
The freestanding emergency room would meet the current needs of Travelers Rest and northern Greenville County but what about the future needs? The freestanding emergency room could be the initial anchor for a healthcare enterprise zone and in that care at least 30 to 40 acres of land would be needed in addition to the proposed 15 acres for the emergency room. Future additions to the healthcare enterprise zone could include diagnostic and therapeutic health facilities like radiology and ambulatory surgery as well as physician offices. All interested health systems would be welcome as partners and the zone would provide potential clinical education opportunities for learners from Furman University, North Greenville University and other regional education institutions.
"This would be great for the citizens of northern Greenville County," said SC Statehouse Rep. Mike Burns (R-Travelers Rest). "We have studied and came up with this proposal. Bon Secures Mercy Health will pay for it, MUSC and the Rural Health Telemedicine System will staff it on their dime. All we need is for Greenville County to come up with the funds for the land. It would be great for the people of northern Greenville County."
Burns said the project will be presented to County Council as the next step in the proposal.
Citizens of Greenville County Council District 17 citizens are represented by Councilman Joe Dill. Citizens should contact Dill and encourage him to approve the proposal.