To meet the needs of the growing Charleston region, the Medical University of South Carolina is trying something nontraditional: a medical center in a shopping mall.
Dr. Patrick Cawley, CEO of MUSC Health, said the hospital had been looking at building a facility in West Ashley for several years. About a year ago, the opportunity arose for MUSC to move into the former J.C. Penney location at Citadel Mall. The hospital signed the lease in October.
“No. 1, it’s a great location,” Cawley said. “No. 2, it’s got great parking. No. 3, it’s going to be right there in the middle of the revitalization of West Ashley, so we thought it would be a great place to be in the middle of.”
Moving into the mall is also less expensive than building a facility, Cawley said. Monthly rent for the space is $168,192, for a total of approximately $37.5 million during the 15-year lease.
Ginger Davis, a sales associate at Trademark Properties Inc., said Trademark bought the J.C. Penney property in August with the intention of converting it to a medical facility.
“There is an international trend beginning to emerge that successfully creates synergy between medical and retail,” she said. “This project will be a catalyst for the long-term vision of the property becoming a mixed-use destination.”
The first floor of the 126,000-square-foot outpatient facility will be used for surgery and procedures, radiology and therapy; a second floor will hold physician offices and examination rooms.
“We’re planning on putting what I would call a normal health care space in there,” Cawley said. “So ... for all intents and purposes, (these) would look like normal physician offices where a physician sees a patient, they’ll look like normal operating rooms, a normal radiology space, etc.”
According to the lease, Trademark Properties and MUSC are splitting the $32.9 million cost of renovating the space. Cawley said the hospital is currently working with architects to design the new space, and he projects the facility will be open in 18 to 24 months.
Cawley said the MUSC center at Citadel Mall is part of a larger trend across the health care industry toward more ambulatory and outpatient procedures and facilities.
“It’s great to have the space and it’s great to be at the Citadel Mall, but across all of health care, we can do more and more things ... in the outpatient or ambulatory environment,” Cawley said. “It used to be many things you would have done you could only have done inside the hospital, but technology has changed.”
He said the MUSC board of trustees laid out a strategy about four years ago to transition away from having most of its locations downtown, instead moving closer to where patients live. The hospital is opening similar facilities on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant; near the Nexton development in Summerville; and at the corner of Mall Drive and Rivers Avenue in North Charleston.
MUSC is also looking at building a new, 128-bed hospital in Summerville to complement the hospital on Ashley Avenue in Charleston. Cawley said the downtown Charleston hospital is usually about 90% full, which he said is “just way too tight,” especially with the number of patients waiting to get into MUSC Health for care.
“We looked at building additional beds, and then as we started to look at it more, we thought we would be better able to take care of our population if we had a hospital capability not on the peninsula,” Cawley said. “So we started looking at what’s the best place, and the Summerville area we felt would be the best place given all the people living out there now.”
The MUSC board of trustees voted last month to apply for a certificate of need with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. Cawley said the approval process for that will take the next four to five months.
The estimated cost of the new hospital is $325 million. In December, the Board of Trustees authorized MUSC Health to seek approval from the State Fiscal Accountability Authority to borrow up to $10 million to acquire the land.
“By adding another hospital to the MUSC Health system, we will establish a natural, complementary component to our ... hospital facility on the peninsula, where we care for the sickest patients and provide the most intensive care,” MUSC President Dr. David Cole said in a statement.
Currently, the only hospital in Summerville is Summerville Medical Center, a 94-bed hospital run by Trident Health System. Todd Gallati, president and CEO of Trident, said in a statement that since MUSC’s decision was made “with virtually no input from the community or health care leaders,” it’s difficult for anyone to know exact details about MUSC’s new hospital since the decision was made, including how MUSC intends to pay for the facility.
“One has to ask if this proposal would take tax dollars needed for roads, schools, police and other essential services for our growing community” since MUSC receives money from the state legislature, Gallati said.
Cawley said he’s heard the criticisms, but he thinks MUSC has a good argument for needing a new hospital.
“We’re hearing all the time that people are happy to hear that MUSC is coming closer to where people live,” he said. “So we feel pretty good about it. We’re full, we need to add more capacity, and we need to do something anyway.”