Columbia, Camden hospital sale must ensure SC people come first, Gov. McMaster says

Any acquisition of a Columbia and Camden hospital system by one of the largest health care providers in the state must ensure South Carolinians are served first, Gov. Henry McMaster said Friday.

McMaster held off on explicitly supporting the Medical University of South Carolina’s plans to buy Columbia’s Providence Hospital and KershawHealth Medical Center in Camden. McMaster said he received a briefing from MUSC weeks ago.

“Our goal is to see that the people of South Carolina have ample medical care and attention. MUSC is confident that this will do that,” said McMaster, speaking to reporters at the State House on Friday after he announced his budget vetoes. “I would like to see the details of the proposal, as would I’m sure the other four members of the Fiscal Affairs Authority.”

The acquisition, announced by the hospital system Friday after a unanimous board vote, would further expand the public hospital’s footprint in the state, allowing the medical university to put roots down in the Midlands region.

Last March, Prisma Health, which owns hospitals in the Columbia area and Upstate, had announced plans to buy Providence and KershawHealth. It would have left West Columbia’s Lexington Medical Center as the only Midlands system not run by Prisma.

A handful of state lawmakers, particularly some from Richland County, were opposed to Prisma’s bid, concerned about layoffs and patient options.

But Prisma’s deal fell through this April, with the hospital system citing “a complex regulatory path, significant delays and challenges with the Federal Trade Commission and state regulatory authorities.”

Now, some lawmakers who were originally critical, along with top legislators and the governor appear on board with MUSC’s intention to buy the hospitals.

“I was supportive of Prisma acquiring those hospitals in their attempt last year,” House budget chief Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, told The State on Thursday. Smith’s father, also named Murrell Smith, is a member of MUSC’s board. “Now that they’re not able to do it, I couldn’t think of a better health care system other than MUSC to takeover those hospitals.”

Over the past year, the Medical University of South Carolina filled a large health care gap as the COVID-19 wreaked havoc in the state. The university helped to deliver COVID-19 tests, including at the State House, and got about $45 million in a more than $200 million coronavirus bill to help boost the state’s vaccine rate.

The hospital system also is the only hospital known in the state to be mandating COVID-19 vaccines for employees.

After the MUSC board’s approval of the purchase, the State Fiscal Accountability Authority is scheduled to take a vote Tuesday. The five-member state board acts as an oversight board, giving final approval on large projects and contracts.

House budget chairman Smith and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence are members, as is McMaster.