Whether the state's high court will hear the case is not certain. DHEC filed a lawsuit on Monday and also asked the Supreme Court to bypass lower courts; the agency is awaiting word. DHEC officials on Wednesday declined to comment further, saying it's now a legal matter.
South Carolina is one of 36 states with CON laws. Those that oppose the programs argue that the government should not have the power to rule on a community's medical needs. The CON programs in Virginia and Washington state are currently being challenged in federal appeals courts. There are also efforts in Maine and New Hampshire to kill the laws. CON programs started in 1964, and they operated with federal funding. Those funds were eliminated in 1987, and since then 14 states have discontinued their CON programs.
Despite the governor stripping funding, DHEC will continue to license and inspect healthcare facilities. Construction and licensing program weren't affected by the veto.
“With these protections in place, we do not believe the suspension of the certificate-of-need program presents any threat to the health, safety and welfare of the public,” DHEC director Catherine Templeton wrote in a letter sent last week, shortly after the governor's veto.
Hospitals and other organizations awaiting CON approval could still proceed with breaking ground on new projects, Templeton also wrote. But there's still confusion with projects that move forward with a CON, as South Carolina lawmakers, not DHEC, would be responsible for any enforcement.
“And, of course, there is a possibility that the General Assembly could come back in January and reinstate the program immediately, requiring even projects that started since the July 1 suspension of the program to stop until CON is approved,” a statement from the South Carolina Medical Association read. The medical association is joined by the South Carolina Hospital Association in opposing Haley's veto, and has threatened a lawsuit.
Roper St. Francis Hospital, a 342-bed facility in Charleston, S.C., submitted a CON application for 14 new rehabilitation beds, a $3.6 million project. Officials said they would continue to monitor the situation.
“Now that we know this issue will likely be challenged in the Supreme Court, we do not intend to take any action until it is determined if the court will rule on the matter,” Roper Chief Strategy Officer Douglas Bowling said in a statement. “While it remains our goal to move forward as planned, the current uncertainty makes it impossible to speculate how the timing and scope of our project might be affected.”
Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill, S.C, filed a lawsuit in April over their stymied plans to build a hospital in Fort Mill, S.C., something they've been trying to do with their parent, Tenet Healthcare, since 2006. They also have a $2.6 million project to buy and install a da Vinci Robotic Surgical System that's awaiting CON approval. Piedmont is also waiting to see how the Supreme Court handles things.
“I think it's pretty obvious to the general public that it would have been a risk to move forward with any purchase or any build,” a Piedmont spokeswoman said. “We're sort of in limbo really.”
Follow Ashok Selvam on Twitter: @MH_aselvam