HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — South Carolina state senators approved a bill to repeal the requirement of a Certificate of Need for new or expanding health care facilities across South Carolina.

The Certificate of Need is approved by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), and approvals can be challenged by competing health care systems, creating an appeals process that can take years.

Sen. Greg Hembree, R-Horry County, is one of 35 state senators who voted in favor of the bill and said the current Certificate of Need approval process is outdated.

“As the medical profession has evolved in South Carolina, and as we have grown in South Carolina, and the way that we have it, it has now become an impediment to entry into the market,” Hembree said.

With tremendous growth in Horry County, DHEC said the county needs more hospital beds to accommodate the increasing population.

Tidelands Health plans a 36-bed hospital in Socastee, Conway Medical Center eyes 50 beds along International Drive, McLeod Health wants to build a 48-bed facility in Carolina Forest and Grand Strand Health plans to transform South Strand Medical Center into a 59-bed hospital.

All four projects have DHEC approval, but sit stalled by the appeals process, where the four competing hospital groups all have challenges filed against each other’s expansion.

Sen. Hembree said the bill’s passing is especially important for Horry County.

“Our whole country is aging, but certainly our community is aging, and we need to get those medical services available as quickly as we can to the folks that need them,” Hembree said.

Marsha Myers, Grand Strand Health chief operating officer, said the hospital group supports the bill repealing the Certificate of Need.

“When we’re trying to provide life-saving medical equipment and or adding medical facilities, one: they could either be rejected or stalled in legal quicksand for years to come,” Myers said.

Rachel Gainey, McLeod Clarendon chief executive officer, said reform is the better option over an outright repeal, echoing the SC Hospital Association’s position. Gainey said the bill could have adverse effects on rural hospitals where a larger portion of patients are under-insured or uninsured.

“When we don’t have that with other facilities, the playing ground is not level,” Gainey said.

The bill is in the House Ways and Means Committee and needs House approval and Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature before becoming law.