COLUMBIA — Piedmont Medical Center’s reputation became an issue Tuesday in the trial over who gets state permission to build a Fort Mill hospital.
Prior to awarding a certificate of need for the hospital, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control received thousands of letters supporting the three applicants, Piedmont, Carolinas HealthCare System and Novant, operator of the Presbyterian hospitals in Charlotte.
Some of the letters urged DHEC to pick “anyone but Piedmont” for the new Fort Mill hospital.
DHEC first awarded the certificate to Piedmont in May 2006 before the decision was appealed by CHS and Novant. DHEC then awarded the certificate to Carolinas HealthCare in September 2011. Piedmont and Novant appealed that decision to the S.C. Administrative Law Court. Novant has since dropped its bid.
Carolinas HealthCare attorneys raised the reputation question Tuesday morning, asking if Piedmont’s “bad image in the community” was a reason York County residents are seeking health care elsewhere.
Attorneys for Piedmont quickly objected, arguing the question was vague and did not meet court standards for questions about character.
Administrative Law Court Judge Phillip Lenski ruled in favor of Carolinas HealthCare, allowing its attorney, Brandon Gaskins, to question Daniel Sullivan, a health care consultant hired by Piedmont.
Gaskins had been questioning Sullivan about York County residents going to North Carolina for health care.
Losing patients to Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville or other CMC facilities has affected the number of patients Piedmont and York County doctors see, its attorney has argued. The result is a change in mix of payers with Piedmont seeing an increase in the number of people insured by Medicare, Medicaid or having no insurance.
The long-term result of losing patients to North Carolina would be a reduction in the quality of care offered locally, witnesses for Piedmont have testified. Piedmont attorneys and witnesses have argued a Fort Mill hospital run by PMC would help stem this problem.
Gaskins asked Sullivan if reputation was one factor affecting market share. Sullivan said, “yes.”
“What kind of reputation does Piedmont have?” Gaskins asked, resulting in another objection from Piedmont attorneys. Lenski again ruled for Carolinas HealthCare.
Sullivan answered that “any hospital has folks that are not happy” with the care they receive. “It is something you have to overcome.”
An interview Sullivan gave The Herald in July 2004 was also questioned by Carolinas HealthCare attorneys.
Sullivan was one of several people interviewed by The Herald for a story about whether the quality of care provided would be a factor DHEC would consider in evaluating the competing applications.
At the time, Sullivan was not employed by any of the applicants. He had previously done for work Carolinas HealthCare and Tenet, the parent company of Piedmont Medical Center.
Sullivan was hired in the summer of 2012 by Piedmont for this case.
In the article, Sullivan said, of the process, “DHEC has a tough job. The applicants on the surface all see similar. There is not a clear-cut decision.”
Attorneys for Carolinas HealthCare said his newspaper statements were inconsistent with his deposition and his testimony advocating for Piedmont.
Sullivan said the newspaper quotes were “based on his knowledge of the issue at the time.”
Since then, Sullivan said, he has evaluated various market studies by Piedmont and its consultants, as well as DHEC’s decision to award the certificate of need to Carolinas HealthCare.
Sullivan’s analysis is a Fort Mill hospital operated by Carolinas HealthCare would have an adverse financial impact of Piedmont Medical Center. Adverse impact is one of several factors DHEC can consider in awarding a certificate of need.
Testimony in the Administrative Law Court trial has been suspended because of a death on an attorney’s family member. The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066