Hospital dispute unsettled: 1 facility or 2 in Berkeley County? Trident, Roper can't agree, so issue will be resolved in court

The question over whether two competing hospitals should be built in Berkeley County is heading back to court.

Trident Health System and Roper St. Francis Healthcare said in a joint statement Thursday that they were unable settle the long-running dispute through mediation.

They did not say why talks broke down.

The last-ditch effort to resolve the issue out of court was announced in late April, about a week before the original trial was to begin on May 2. The mediation was held this week.

"The two parties did not reach an agreement," according to Thursday's brief statement.

The two large medical providers will now argue their cases before a state administrative law judge at a trial this year, probably in October. A ruling could take months, further delaying the start of construction.

The permitting dispute goes back to 2008, when Trident and Roper each proposed 50-bed hospitals that would sit about 12 miles apart and provide similar acute-care services.

Both providers have said they were attracted to the housing and population growth projected for Berkeley County.

Roper St. Francis has purchased land for its project in the Carnes Crossroads area, while Trident plans to expand its existing Moncks Corner medical center.

The state Department of Health and Environmental Control approved the two proposals in June 2009. Its reasoning was that the health care facilities would not compete with each other.

Trident immediately appealed the DHEC's decision, arguing in part that it was not financially feasible to have two hospitals so close together.

Roper officials countered by saying the population growth would enable both to make money.

The two health care providers released statements from their chief executive officers late Thursday.

David L. Dunlap, CEO of Roper St. Francis, said Roper "made a sincere effort to reach an agreement in mediation" and that he was "disappointed" the two sides could not come to terms.

"We expect the trial to begin in late October of this year and we remain optimistic that our position will prevail in the court system," Dunlap said. "We agree that the DHEC decision to approve both hospitals was correct, and we believe that the people in Berkeley County agree with that decision as well."

Trident CEO Todd Gallati said, "Unfortunately we were unable to come to an agreement during mediation, however, we look forward to presenting our case at trial. We feel the location of our hospital best meets the needs of Berkeley County residents."

Contact John McDermott at 937-5572.