Aiken council rejects plan to open medical complex

AIKEN --- It seemed like a good idea for University Hospital to build a 72,000-square-foot medical office complex in Aiken.

 

"Twenty percent of our patients come from Aiken," said Rebecca Sylvester, a hospital spokeswoman. "Obviously, Aiken County is a place we feel we need to be."

The hospital planned to lease office space to any doctor who was interested and possibly include space for imaging and labs. The complex on Silver Bluff Road across from Centre South Shopping Center would have included three buildings.

But the Aiken City Council -- citing traffic and neighborhood concerns -- voted against the plan Monday night.

Now the hospital is holding 7.5 acres it purchased for $2.4 million in August, before plans were brought before the Planning Commission or the city council for approval.

In December, the Planning Commission unanimously approved the concept plan, and the city council had approved it on first reading.

But University Hospital faced intense opposition from executives and employees of Aiken Regional Medical Centers, who viewed the plans as an encroachment on health care in Aiken that would have a negative economic impact on the community and would harm Aiken Regional.

Most who spoke against the office building at Monday's standing-room-only city council meeting are affiliated with Aiken Regional.

With 20 percent of University Hospital's patients living in Aiken County, Ms. Sylvester said, having an office in the area would allow those patients more convenient access to their doctors. She said the hospital was not attempting to siphon off patients.

Some were not convinced.

"The long-term viability of this hospital (Aiken Regional) is at risk," said Sam Kelly, a board member of the Aiken hospital.