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Morgan Sellers holds her newborn son, Justice Jefferson, as his father, Raykuan Jefferson, smiles at him inside the new Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital. Justice is the first baby born at the facility. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

In 1975, a group of Berkeley County doctors banded together to open an after-hours nonprofit medical clinic when the county's only hospital closed. 

One of them — Dr. Philip Schillinglaw of St. Stephen — told The News and Courier the Moncks Corner clinic wasn't meant to serve as an emergency department. It was really more of a first-aid station, one of his partners said.

The doctors hoped it could prevent some patients from having to drive all the way to Charleston. 

"It's 17 miles to Moncks Corner from St. Stephen. That's long enough," Schillinglaw said. "I can't go to Trident Hospital because that's 37 miles."

Their intentions were good, but the nonprofit clinic couldn't make ends meet. It reportedly lost $2,000 within its first month and the doctors closed it. 

"Trident Hospital may be able to take care of our needs," Dr. Rhett Myers, a Moncks Corner physician said in 1975. "We'll have to try and find out."

Forty-four years have since passed and Berkeley County is now a very different place. Its population has nearly quadrupled since 1970 and there are more medical services in place, including a freestanding ER, than these physicians could have likely imagined. 

But their chief concern — that the county lacked a hospital — had not been solved.

Until Friday. 

At 12:01 a.m., the new Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital officially opened. 

And 7 hours and 14 minutes later, a baby boy was born. 

Justice Jefferson, who clocked in at 7 pounds, 8 ounces, was the first baby born at the new facility. 

"He was supposed to be here on Tuesday," said his mom, Morgan Sellers of Cross.

She said she loves being a new mother. 

"It's honestly the best feeling." 

Sellers originally planned to give birth at Bon Secours St. Francis Hospital in West Ashley, an hour-long drive from Cross. But the new Berkeley Hospital opened early Friday and it significantly cut her driving time, which worked out well since she went into the hospital at midnight. The new Berkeley Hospital was only a 30 minute drive from her home. 

"I haven't been to sleep yet," said Raykuan Jefferson, the baby's father.

The $117 million, 50-bed facility, located in Carnes Crossroads off Highway 176, has been at least 10 years in the making as hospital leaders fought a long legal battle before the first spade of dirt was overturned. 

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New hospital construction must be approved by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. To proceed, hospitals must apply and be granted a Certificate of Need from the state agency — a controversial process designed to reduce health care spending and avoid the unnecessary duplication of medical services. 

In 2009, both Roper St. Francis and Trident Health were granted a Certificate of Need by DHEC to build their own hospitals in Berkeley County. Trident fought the decision, contending that the county's population could only reasonably support one hospital. The dispute was settled in Roper St. Francis' favor in 2015. 

Trident Health CEO Todd Gallati would not speculate if the opening of the new Roper St. Francis hospital in Berkeley County will impact Trident Medical Center's bottom line. 

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Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital opened early Friday morning. It is the first hospital in Berkeley County in more than 40 years. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

He said Trident's North Charleston hospital has long served residents in Berkeley County and, in recent years, has focused on caring for "higher acuity" patients with complex needs. Trident Medical Center has recently opened a new trauma center and an inpatient behavioral health facility, he said. 

"These are services you don’t see offered at a 50-bed hospital," Gallati said. 

Trident also operates a freestanding emergency department in Moncks Corner but has not built a full-fledged hospital in Berkeley County, although it still holds a Certificate of Need to do so. Gallati said Trident is still in the planning phase for that hospital.

Meanwhile, the Medical University of South Carolina was granted its own Certificate of Need last year to build a $325 million Berkeley hospital, too.  

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Staff at the new Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital stand together in a circle as they receive a blessing from representatives of various faiths. The hospital opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

On Friday, religious leaders traveled to the new Berkeley Hospital to pray over the Roper St. Francis physicians and staff in a Blessing of the Hands ceremony. The goal was to commemorate the opening of the new facility while fulfilling the system's mission of incorporating faith into the healing process. 

"We think the celebration of milestones is incredibly important to recognize," said Roper St. Francis President and CEO Lorraine Lutton. "We just think it's wonderful." 

Reach Jerrel Floyd at 843-937-5558. Follow him on Twitter @jfloyd134.