MURRELLS INLET — Waccamaw Community Hospital has added beds and recruited surgeons since opening a decade ago on the south Strand and expects the growth and more demand for services to continue in the coming years, with an expansion of its surgery center already underway and additional services in the works.
Growth came quicker than expected for the south end hospital, with most of its patients coming from Murrells Inlet, Surfside Beach, Socastee and parts of Pawleys Island. During its next 10 years, the hospital plans to expand outside the main campus and add services such as cardiac rehab to its main facility, officials said.
As growth continues in some areas, the hospital plans to look at what services it can raise to higher levels, and continue investments in electronic systems to reduce errors, officials said.
“We will do what we have to do with expansions, but we will focus on highly-reliable healthcare and error-free care than bricks and mortars,” said Gayle Resetar, chief operating officer for Georgetown Hospital System, which includes Waccamaw Community Hospital and Georgetown Memorial Hospital.
The surgery center expansion at Waccamaw, expected to be done in April, will include four operating rooms, bringing the hospital’s total to eight operating rooms, six recovery beds for a total of 14, and additional procedural space, officials said.
“It’s probably the area where there was more significant need for more space,” Resetar said. “We just didn’t have enough space to accommodate the patient service needs here [at the main campus].”
The hospital had more than 3,800 surgery cases during the fiscal year that ended in September, about the same as the previous year, officials said.
“Due to the current OR capacity, we have generally filled the time available so we would not likely see a big change last year to this year,” Resetar said. “We are anticipating significant growth this year as we add the four ORs and have more available time for elective surgeries.”
Waccamaw expects it will continue to see expansions outside of the main campus, while it closely watches its emergency room services after having a higher patient volume this summer than last year.
In July, the hospital’s emergency room had 17 percent more patients than it did last year, Resetar said. She said the higher patient volume in the summer could have been because there were more vacationers here than previous years.
“I’m not sure what this will mean going into the future,” Resetar said. “There’s a lot of strategy to keep the ER as efficient as possible. We’re keeping an eye on that and any facilities needs there. It could be an area that needs expansion in the future. We would be looking for ways to solve patient needs and not just do bricks and mortars.”
Resetar said there has to be a balance in responding to patient volume demand and physical building needs.
The other hospital in Waccamaw’s system, Georgetown Memorial Hospital, announced last month that it has nixed plans to build a new hospital and instead will renovate the existing hospital. The $22 million work should take about two years, spokeswoman Ronda Wilson has said.
Overhauling the existing Georgetown hospital is not expected to affect Waccamaw and any potential projects there, officials said.
Waccamaw Community Hospital doesn’t have another project on the heels of the surgery center expansion, but aims to add cardiac rehab as an additional service on the main campus after the operating room expansion is done, Resetar said.
“The system keeps growing, but it’s not going to grow as much. We can’t expand the main campus,” Resetar said. “I think we have beds for the foreseeable future.”
Some of the plans when the hospital was built have come to fruition, and some a lot quicker than officials expected.
Plans included the surgery center expansion and a fourth floor to the main campus.
“We all thought it would take longer to need that space,” Resetar said about the operating room expansion. “Part of it is that the population grew. We finished growing within the main facility within three years, then we went to a fourth floor. We grew faster than we thought we would.
“People in the community were going to other hospitals and now have services here in the community. We thought it would take longer for people to decide whether they would continue to have care [at another hospital] instead of coming to Waccamaw. People decided quicker. It’s hard to predict that. We’ve tried to respond as quickly as possible to the demand there.”
When Waccamaw opened in November 2002, it had 40 acute and 29 rehab beds, spokeswoman Margaret Lamb with Georgetown Hospital System said. Today, the hospital has 124 acute and 43 acute rehab beds.
The hospital added an imaging center across U.S.17 Bypass, and during the spring opened a new medical office park called Waccamaw Medical Park-West, Lamb said.
Resetar said the hospital has plans to expand outpatient services outside of the main campus, and that there is still room for growth in the imaging center. There’s also undeveloped space in the new office building.
The hospital has also recruited two additional orthopedic surgeons and a breast surgeon and is working with the Medical University of South Carolina to recruit a neurosurgeon, Resetar said.