HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Better health care in the form of emergency care is headed to Horry County.
Of the three hospitals that applied, two received the green light this week to build free-standing emergency departments in the Carolina Forest area.
On Oct. 27, McLeod Loris Seacoast Hospital, Grand Strand Medical Center and Conway Medical Center presented their cases to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control on why each should receive a certificate of need to build a free-standing emergency department.
Since then, DHEC has been analyzing the Carolina Forest area's need for emergency care and deciding how many certificates of need to award.
It's no secret Horry County lacks doctors and general access to health care compared to the area's population and projections for future growth.
Dr. John Charles, chief medical officer at McLeod, agrees. He said hospitals research information like population, real estate and job growth to decide where there's a need to expand hospital and outpatient services.
"We're convinced that there is going to be enough of a demand, enough of a need for all three hospitals in this area to thrive," Charles said. "We don't see ourselves as trying to cut out the business of another hospital. We very much think this is a community that's going to need three hospitals." he said.
However, all three free-standing emergency departments aren't needed right now. DHEC only awarded certificates of need to McLeod Loris Seacoast Hospital and Grand Strand Medical Center to build the free-standing emergency departments.
"I am delighted that Grand Strand Health's project has been approved by DHEC," said Jon Pangia, emergency medical director of Grand Strand Medical Center.
WMBF News reached out to Conway Medical Center for comment but did not hear back.
According to certificate of need explanatory documents provided by DHEC, Conway's hospital-based emergency department was approved for expansion and modernization in February 2016, which led to the denial of their separate bid for a free-standing emergency department.
Those free-standing emergency departments operate the same way as a normal ER. However, it is not attached to the hospital or even in the same vicinity, according to Charles.
For example, McLeod's free-standing ER will be with its new outpatient complex in Carolina Forest at Grissom Parkway and International Drive. Its nearest hospital is in Little River.
Grand Strand Medical Center is located off the U.S. 17 Bypass, near 79th Avenue North, in Myrtle Beach. Its free-standing ER is slated to be built near U.S. 501 in Carolina Forest.
Charles explained once both free-standing emergency departments are built, wait times will be diminished. That could change, though, if the population growth follows the study projections. In that case, a third free-standing ER could be needed.
McLeod will have the first free-standing ER in operation in Carolina Forest. The hospital giant began building the first of its future seven-structure outpatient complex last year.
According to McLeod officials, the first structure was built with the intention of having a free-standing emergency department on the ground-level floor. The top floors would house urology and primary care physicians.
As McLeod awaited DHEC's decision, work on the structure's ground level was halted while construction on the top floors continued.
Charles said although McLeod and Grand Strand have been awarded the certificates, there is a two-week appeals period. If one is filed, that will delay progress, he added.
According to Charles, if there is no appeal, construction will start on the inside of McLeod's free-standing emergency department.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for the first structure's opening is scheduled for March.