CHESTER, S.C. (AP) — A wing of an abandoned rural hospital in South Carolina's Chester County has been transformed into a health facility for inmates that could start accepting patients before the end of the year.
The $3.3 million project by the state's Department of Corrections over the past few years has fortified the new wing with prison bars, specially secured doors and cameras throughout the building. The move gives the state Department of Corrections a medical resource while at the same time saves a community hospital from disappearing.
The hospital, formerly known as the Chester County Hospital, provided care for the community for decades. But like many small-town hospitals, it was at risk of going out of business from a lack of staff and patients.
In 2019, the Medical University of South Carolina purchased the facility and gave it a new name, MUSC Health Chester Medical Center. To keep it alive, the hospital and local and state leaders made a deal to use the hospital's empty beds to treat inmates from across South Carolina, The Post and Courier reported.
The deal was spearheaded by South Carolina Department of Corrections Director Bryan Stirling in partnership with MUSC Health Chief Executive Officer Patrick Cawley,
In turn for providing medical care to the inmates, Cawley hopes the hospital will attract more doctors and ultimately bring revenue to the town of Chester.
“Because we have more patients, we can recruit more doctors and nurses,” Cawley said.
The Department of Corrections projects that the hospital would be providing care to 36 inmates, Shain said, with 33 beds available for acute care and three for intensive care.
“It's supposed to open before the end of the year, but we do not have a specific date yet,” Shain said of when the hospital will begin accepting patients.
Cawley said he anticipates the inmate program will “stabilize” Chester by attracting more medical staff that will invest in the community.
“Really, for the community, I think it is vital to keeping our hospital,” said Daniel R. Crow, emergency room physician at the Chester hospital. “It is going to make us financially viable for years to come.”