Micro hospital coming to Lowcountry, thanks to partnership

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Micro hospitals have been emerging in suburban and urban markets in geographic pockets across the country for a few years.

These short-stay facilities for adults and adolescents are convenient, accessible and affordable, provide a wide array of medical services, and have a small handful of inpatient beds.

They bridge a medical gap between urgent care facilities and full-fledged hospitals. Think of micro hospitals as offering many of the same medical services as a large, acute-care hospital but on a much smaller scale.

South Carolina doesn't have a micro hospital yet, but it will soon, thanks to a new partnership between Beaufort Memorial and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

It certainly makes solid marketing sense: Position the new facility in the epicenter of current and soon-to-come active-living communities of Sun City, Margaritaville and East Argent.

"We've owned the land (20 acres) that sits on the corner of 170 and 278 for 10 years," said Beaufort Memorial's CEO and President Russell Baxley.

"The previous board had the vision that that was an up-and-coming area of growth; they saw the potential of Sun City and the Margaritavilles of the world coming," he said. "The vision of the previous board was spot on. Now, we've taken that vision and turned it into the micro hospital."

There is no construction timetable for the $40 million project - construction, furniture, medical fixtures, the whole shebang - because it's still under regulatory review by the state.

Occupancy of the space still needs to be determined.

Here's what we know. It will be a 24/7, 20-bed, acute-care, 60,000-square-foot facility with an emergency room, specializing in orthopedics and general acute care and outpatient surgery, Baxley said.

In the first year of operation, they project 10,000 emergency room visits and 1,300 admissions.

"The board had the foresight to understand that if growth was going to happen in Beaufort County, it was going to happen in the Bluffton, Okatie, Hilton Head area," he said.

"Beaufort Memorial has been analyzing the need for a micro hospital in the market for the better part of a year," Baxley said. "We want this facility to serve as a unique patient-focused facility where they live, work and play. ... It will be a full-service community hospital."

Baxley also said ground is expected to be broken on the new 70,000-square-foot medical office building, which will share the same 20-acre parcel as the micro hospital, in June.

Completion of the $20 million building is expected in September 2019.

The hospital will occupy the first two floors with MUSC and third-party physicians sharing the third floor.

Among the medical services offered will be a cancer center, cardiology, imaging, pediatrics and primary care.

"This is only the first step in the evolution of Beaufort Memorial," Baxley said. "We envision continually growing cost effectively and serving Beaufort County. This is exciting for us."

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer.

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