University's Aiken plan rejected

AIKEN - Aiken City Council voted Monday night against University Hospital's plans to build a medical office complex on Silver Bluff Road, citing traffic and neighborhood concerns.

After a 20-minute executive session and a nearly three-hour public hearing in which the majority of the standing-room only audience spoke in opposition, council members unanimously voted against the proposed concept plan - a 72,000-square-foot complex across from Centre South Shopping Center.

Kay Brierman Brohl, a board member with Aiken Regional Medical Center, told council members that she was concerned about the economic impact the office building would have on the community.

"Doctors in the proposed complex will be sending patients across the river to another hospital," she said. "It will severely impact our ability to recruit quality doctors."

Andy Lasser, executive vice president of University Hospital, said 20 percent of its patients come from Aiken County.

"We decided we needed to serve our patients in Aiken County," he said.

The concept plan for the facility called for the leasing of office space to any doctor who was interested and possibly space for imaging and lab - not surgical space or an emergency room.

"It's not likely we will add ER services," Dr. Lasser said. "It's not in our plans."

However, those who opposed the office building - most of whom were affiliated with Aiken Regional - were not swayed by Dr. Lasser's assurances that University Hospital's plan would not be detrimental to Aiken Regional or the community.

"The long term viability of this hospital is at risk," said Sam Kelly, a board member with Aiken Regional

Not all who spoke were against University Hospital's plans.

Beth Posey Powell, of Graniteville, said she drives all the way to Evans to see her doctor and was in favor of the medical complex.

Ms. Powell said she supports Aiken, preferring to shop locally, but "when it comes to health care people should have a choice."

Dr. Lasser praised CEO K.D. Justyn's efforts over the past seven years to make Aiken Regional a first class hospital, saying that the facility University is proposing would not hurt Aiken Regional.

Dr. Lasser also said he hoped that one day everyone would stop thinking in terms of "us and them across the river."

"I think of us as being in one large community," he said. "What we think we are proposing is a way to improve health care in the community."

Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or michelle.guffey@augustachronicle.com.

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