Midlands' three hospitals must work together

DESPITE A UNIQUE agreement to give Lexington Medical Center an open-heart surgery unit without further saturating the market, Lexington and Providence Hospital - and the rest of us - could be in for yet another unproductive fight if they fail to bring Palmetto Health into the fold.

Palmetto Health actually had been an ally of Providence's as the two fought to prevent Lexington Medical from gaining state approval to open the region's third open-heart center. Providence and Palmetto Health Richland have heart programs that adequately serve the region, and they had argued correctly that a third center would be duplicative, dilute surgical talent and harm quality. (We opposed the expansion of the Richland program for the same reasons we have opposed Lexington's.) As DHEC repeatedly rejected Lexington Medical's request, Lexington tried unsuccessfully to gain approval of a heart center by taking its fight to court as well as to the Legislature.

But even as Lexington and Providence jousted, sometimes bitterly, they worked to settle their differences. They came to a successful resolution earlier this year that calls for Providence to shut down one of its four heart surgery units and allow Lexington to open a unit, keeping capacity in the Midlands the same. Lexington would give Providence $15 million over three years to make up for that lost capacity, and no longer oppose the proposed expansion of Providence Northeast. In addition, Providence would join Lexington in asking the Department of Health and Environmental Control to approve a Certificate of Need that would "de-license" one of Providence's operating rooms and license a unit for Lexington Medical. Lexington recently filed the request, which DHEC should consider on its merits, just as it would any other. It should ensure the request makes sense and fits the state's strategy of making sure high-quality health care is provided to the community without harmful, costly duplication.

We commend Lexington Medical and Providence for their willingness to work together in the best interest of their communities. It makes far more sense for major institutions with the responsibility and resources they possess to resolve their differences amicably rather than for them to waste precious time and millions of dollars continuing a fight no one can truly win.

But it's troubling that Palmetto Health hasn't yet been brought into the loop.

We know Lexington Medical and Providence had their hands full simply coming to their own agreement. But they did - months ago. It's imperative that they have meaningful discussion with Palmetto Health that leads to a comprehensive agreement among all three. Leaving out the biggest provider in the region is just asking for a continuation of the unproductive, costly health care wars that have become all too familiar in our community. Palmetto Health could oppose Lexington Medical's request to be allowed to perform open heart surgery, which Lexington hopes to open by early 2011.

The fighting has gone on long enough. The Midlands sorely needs its three hospitals to work together - and not against one another - to provide the best health care possible for all citizens. Providence and Lexington Medical have shown it's possible. They need to take the final step and invite Palmetto Health in.