Hospital System Has History Of Controversy With Northern Greenville County
By Roger Jewell
In 1975 the Greenville Hospital System (now Prisma Health) announced the completion of construction of North Greenville Hospital in Travelers Rest. The hospital held dedication services at the site on August 28, 1975. Hospital system authorities said the facility would be a
medical – surgical facility with 29 beds and 14 semi-private rooms. It was the hospital system's first and only hospital located in the northern portion of Greenville County. The hospital was the result of a petition from residents of northern Greenville for a hospital in Travelers Rest. But the services that the hospital system placed inside North Greenville Hospital were not what the citizens had requested, a fully functional general hospital with emergency medical services.
Hospital system authorities said the facility would serve as a base for several outpatient programs needed for patients in the northern section of the county and would have the capacity to handle complex medical-surgical cases and patients requiring obstetrical care. They also said a EMS ambulance would be stationed at the hospital.
FOUR YEARS LATER
Four years later, the hospital was in trouble. The hospital system claimed it has lost almost $1 million since the facility opened in 1975. In a closed door meeting in October 1979 hospital system trustees discussed the legal questions that arose from a decision to add a program for alcohol addiction patients at North Greenville Hospital. The hospital system wanted to establish
a twelve bed in-patient alcoholism treatment program at the financially ailing hospital. Hospital administrators and trustees felt the addition would restore financial losses and be a service to the community. Some trustees and the local community felt the addition would create a stigma that would keep other patients from coming to the hospital and local taxpayers did not want their tax money going toward something that would benefit an entire region. The hospital system said North Greenville Hospital averaged only five patients during 1979. Local authorities said the low patient counts were the result of a shortage of doctors in Travelers Rest. The hospital system got its way. Local residents still wanted a general hospital with emergency medical services but what they got was a center for alcohol addiction.
In 1993 finances reared an ugly head once again. The hospital system, feeling a hunger for more money, decided to pull another rug from under North Greenville Hospital. The hospital system once again declared the hospital was “not cost efficient” and removed its alcoholism patients from the facility and relocated them to Marshall Pickens Psychiatric Hospital in Greenville. This promoted area citizens to fight back. Mr. Dill Blackwell, a former state representative and resident of Travelers Rest, told the hospital system, “State legislation says you have an obligation to provide and operate an acute care hospital here and if you bring something else in here, the public is going to be very upset.”
Blackwell's statement was true. Residents of this area had lobbied for general hospital services with emergency services for several years. The hospital operated as a general care hospital from 1975 to 1979 when it became a center for alcoholism treatment. But the hospital system resisted due to low patient usage. Now in 1993, the hospital system said the facility was losing one million dollars a year once again. The battle between the hospital system and area citizens continued for several years.
"We Are Not Second Class Citizens"
The hospital system leaders felt northern Greenville County's industrial base and population would grow eventually but unfortunately, that would be in the future and not in 1993. They felt North Greenville Hospital's building could be used to treat either psychiatric patients or even AIDS patients but making it a full fledged general medical hospital with emergency services
would be out of the question. By October of 1993 the hospital system came up with a plan to move rehabilitation patients to
North Greenville Hospital. By then, the citizens of northern Greenville County were ready to wage war against the Greenville Hospital System in order to get general hospital and emergency services in Travelers Rest. Instead, the hospital system said they were building outpatient care facilities on the east side of Greenville. Beverly Caldwell, a member of the North Greenville
Hospital Advisory Board told hospital system trustees, “Why should you spend money on the eastside of Greenville while we have nothing up here. We are not second class citizens!'
The debate flowed from late 1993 to the summer of 1994 when the hospital system was notified that it was about to lose accreditation to train family care doctors if it didn't make plans to expand. System leaders looked at the controversial North Greenville Hospital as a remedy. They thought the hospital would be a good location for after hours urgent care needs as well as other possibilities but not a full service general hospital with emergency services.
"Give Us A General Hospital Or Turn Over The Keys To Another System"
By August of 1994 citizens and the North Greenville Hospital Advisory Board basically told the hospital system to turn over the keys of the hospital to the citizens of northern Greenville County so another hospital system could operate the type of hospital that everyone wanted up here.
Pressured by citizens, political leaders and the threat of losing accreditation, the hospital system trustees had to do something by September. On September 12, 1994 the Greenville Hospital System's board of trustees caved in and agreed to place an emergency room at North Greenville Hospital. The trustees said the emergency room would be operated 24 hours a day, seven days a week and the hospital system would provide visiting health care specialists. The cost would be expected to be $2.2 million to staff, equip and operate. The facility would be budgeted to lose about $1.5 million a year. The new emergency room would house five patient bays. Patients would be stabilized at the emergency room before being sent home or more critical patients would be transferred to Greenville Memorial Hospital. Plans included a rotation of medical specialty doctors to the area on a weekly basis to schedule appointments so patients could visit rather than drive to Greenville. The plan would be in
operation by the end of 1994.
In 1995 the hospital system ran ads in Greenville newspapers stating on January 2, 1995 North Greenville Hospital would open its doors offering emergency medicine 24 hours a day. The ads also stated, starting on January 9, 1995 the North Greenville Hospital would house other services such as physician appointments for internal medicine, pediatricts, and gynecology, community education programs, fitness programs, diagnostic services and observation beds. An “Ask A Nurse” program would also be established so people could call and speak to nurses that would man telephones to answer medical questions. To celebrate, a hospital HealthFest would be held at North Greenville Hospital on January 29, 1995. Unfortunately it all didn't last.
New Name, Same Old Shaft
In the following years the Greenville Hospital System became a private hospital system to remove itself from legislative pressures. Greenville Hospital System became Prisma Health and would take over most doctor offices and smaller hospitals from Greenville to Columbia. In 2020 Prisma used the Covid epidemic to shut down the North Greenville Hospital emergency room.
The hospital itself became a Covid hospital and residents of Travelers Rest and northern Greenville County were robbed of local emergency medical services. The reason Prisma officials gave was the same old song and dance, low patient counts. So, here we go again folks.
Now, officials from the Medical University of South Carolina and Bon Secures Mercy Health have agreed to establish emergency medical services by way of a freestanding emergency room as a part of a health care enterprise zone in Travelers Rest if Greenville County Council agrees to fund money for the land purchase and construction. Right now, the ball is in County Council's court.