In January 1954, construction began on the Barnwell County Hospital in Barnwell, South Carolina. Designed by architects Hopkins, Baker, & Gill of Florence, the hospital included such state-of-the-art features as air-conditioning, piped-in oxygen, and an audio-visual nurse-to-patient call system. The general contractors chosen for the job were Skinner and Ruddock, Inc. of Charleston. The 43-bed hospital was built in conjunction with a 10-bed nursing home for $815,000. The project was financed by federal and county funds and funds from the Duke Endowment. The hospital planning was done by Charles C. Boone, a Duke University graduate. Boone had experience in hospital administration at Duke and Rutherford, North Carolina.
The new hospital hadn’t even opened when the administrator officially registered its first delivery – sextuplets. Officials reported that all six of the puppies were doing well. They were born in the storage building of the hospital. Barnwell County Hospital was dedicated on May 28, 1955. The emergency room, operating room, urology laboratory, X-ray laboratory, colored nursery, kitchen, and employee cafeteria were located on the first floor. A solarium for patients’ relaxation and a white nursery was located on the upper floor. The first patient was admitted on June 3, 1955. Within the first year, Barnwell County Hospital admitted over 1,100 patients, had more than 2,000 outpatients, and more than 200 babies were born. Barnwell County Hospital is the county’s only hospital and had the only X-ray machine in Barnwell. Local doctors would send patients to the hospital for routine X-rays.
By the early 2000s, the hospital began struggling financially. Instead of combining services to reduce overhead costs, hospital administration overlooked its shortcomings. A decade later, financial troubles were imminent. In 2011, the Barnwell County Council replaced its hospital board with itself and then voted to approve a contract with Healthcare Management Partners. The contract called for HMP to coordinate the restructuring of the hospital’s debt, with the facility filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The Barnwell People-Sentinel reported that the council appointed themselves to the BCHB after the then-current board would not vote to send the hospital into bankruptcy. HMP, along with Dobbs Equity Partners, signed a letter of intent with Bamberg, Barnwell, and Allendale counties to build a 70-bed acute care regional hospital. New multi-specialty ambulatory primary care centers, which would have been located on or near each of the three existing campuses, were also proposed. Allendale pulled out of the deal in July 2011, and Barnwell bailed out of the deal shortly after.
Atlanta-based Resurgence Management Company LLC purchased the Barnwell County Hospital in 2013. The company held a contest to rename the hospital and developed plans to expand its services. The purchase followed a failed effort by the Bamburg and Barnwell County hospitals to develop a regional healthcare system with Memphis-based Dobbs Equity Partners. Both hospitals filed for bankruptcy while they worked to restructure their debt, but the deal with Dobbs was never finalized. Barnwell Healthcare Inc, an affiliate of Resurgence Management, formed a local citizen committee to select a new name for the hospital. The committee solicited names from the community, with Barnwell resident Chasity Still submitting Southern Palmetto Hospital as the winner. The new name was unveiled at the Barnwell County Library in July 2013. Despite a name change, the hospital also faced other legal challenges besides the continued bankruptcy proceedings. Earlier that year, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that members of the Barnwell County Council were breaking the law by holding seats on the county council and the Barnwell County Hospital Board.
On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, Southern Palmetto Hospital released a statement announcing the end of patient services and temporarily ceasing operations as of the following day at noon, noting that “maintaining a full-service hospital for the current demand from the acute and emergency patients is not sustainable” and that the hospital had been operating at a loss despite efforts to improve efficiency, collections, and the facility itself. The statement indicated that the hospital lost $2.5 million from operations because of a low patient census and uncompensated care. The closure came as a shock to many within the small town who depended on the hospital. Most people including the police chief found out about the closure through Facebook. Southern Palmetto was the third rural hospital to close within 10 months in South Carolina. In 2018, the vacant hospital sold for $2.8 million to Baptist Gardens, a California faith-based nonprofit organization. The former hospital has since been cleaned out and alarmed with a security patrol.
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