U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., said he agrees that the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control should be split into two agencies that deal separately with public health and environmental regulation.
Sanford, speaking during a tour of a midwife birth center in North Charleston on Wednesday, echoed similar statements made by DHEC Director Catherine Templeton this fall that the department is too unwieldy to do its job very well.
"It covers so much territory in South Carolina that it becomes very difficult to deal with all the parts," Sanford said.
A task force Sanford convened as governor concluded that DHEC should be split, but failed to achieve that goal.
"We were not successful," he said. "There are a lot of constituencies that like it the way it is, but I think if you want to get more bang for the buck as taxpayers, you need to look at that decoupling."
Sanford stopped by the Charleston Birth Place Wednesday to learn more about the business, he said.
Nurse midwife and owner Lesley Rathbun has been fighting a public battle with the state health department since mid-November over a regulation that requires birth centers to sign agreements with nearby doctors in case of an emergency during a difficult delivery.
The Charleston Birth Place has signed agreements with two local doctors, but DHEC issued the business a citation in November for non-compliance.
"I am compliant. I have been compliant. I don't understand why I was cited," Rathbun said. "My physicians in the hospital I work with don't understand either."
While DHEC Director Templeton indicated to members of the media that the Charleston Birth Place has appropriate contracts with local physicians in place, the department has not rescinded the November citation. Rathbun said she's lost business since then and is worried that the health department may try to shut her birth center down.
"We have orientation every Wednesday night for patients who are interested in coming in. Normally, it's standing room only and only four couples showed up," she said.
"We're hoping it's just a little bit of a lull with the holidays and people kind of waiting to see how this is going to play out, but I am concerned and I'm not going to be able to grow my business, for sure. I'm hoping I can recover."
Sanford said the issue between DHEC and the Charleston Birth Place underscores the degree to which DHEC is probably too cumbersome.
Templeton said Wednesday that splitting the department is unlikely in 2014.
"It's just such a heavy lift, you don't start it in the second year for a two-year (General Assembly) session," she said.
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.