The Beach Boom and Healthcare

August 22, 2023

Oran P. Smith, Ph.D

Senior Fellow

According to a new study by U.S. News and World Report, the fastest-growing metro area in the United States is…Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

This is no real surprise, because when the South Carolina General Assembly was debating the future of the Certificate of Need (CON) program, we highlighted Horry County (oh-ree) as an example of a place where the availability of healthcare was not keeping up with population growth.

Horry County is home to both Conway and Myrtle Beach, but also booming unincorporated areas like Carolina Forest. The county grew by over 70,000 residents from one census to the next (2010-2020). Taking a longer view, from 1970-2020, Horry County grew even faster than the state of Florida!

Currently, four hospital systems have plans to grow along the Grand Strand: Conway Medical Center, Tidelands Health, McLeod Health, and Grand Strand Medical Center. Their plans show the demand that comes from growth and provide examples of worthy expansions:

  • A new Ambulatory Surgery Center (ASC) is to be established by McLeod. ASCs offer more efficient surgeries than traditional hospitals. McLeod also has plans to bring the latest in MRI technology to two of its campuses.
  • Tidelands Health is looking to build a wide range of healthcare facilities (acute, rehab and extended care) in an area of the county known more in the past for agriculture than medical services (between Socastee and Murrells Inlet).
  • Grand Strand is planning to establish an acute care hospital at its South Strand Medical Center campus, where it has been offering other services for over twenty years.
  • Conway Medical Center, which recently announced a partnership with Novant Health, is looking to transfer acute bed licenses from one part of the county to the other.

Most of these expansions are facing delays, some due to the last vestiges of Certificate of Need, others due to local factors like zoning.

Fortunately, most of the CON statute was repealed upon the Governor’s signature on Act 20 (2023) on May 16, 2023. The rest of CON-related delays will go away at the end of 2026.

We are in a bit of a no man’s land for the short run. But soon, counties growing at the rate of Horry will be able to have healthcare options that keep up with their expanding populations with less government red tape and legal challenges from market competitors.

Note: Both Spartanburg and Greenville made the US News list at #12 and #23 respectively. CON repeal will help the Upstate as well.