December 3, 2015 — The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control will propose regulatory changes to increase the fees that abortion clinics in the state have to pay for annual inspections, according to DHEC Director of Health Regulation Shelly Kelly, the AP/Bluffton Island Packet reports.
Kelly announced the inspection fee increases on Tuesday to the state House Oversight Committee. During the same hearing, the House Oversight panel disclosed that its investigation into Planned Parenthood has not found any evidence of wrongdoing and was coming to a close (Adcox, AP/Bluffton Island Packet, 12/1).
Gov. Nikki Haley (R) asked DHEC to investigate abortion clinics in the state following a series of misleading videos targeting Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program. Between Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, DHEC investigated the three clinics in South Carolina: a Planned Parenthood clinic in Columbia, the Greenville Women's Clinic and the Charleston Women's Medical Center. The department found 21 administrative and operational violations at the Columbia clinic, six violations at the Greenville clinic and four minor errors in documentation at the Charleston facility.
DHEC suspended the licenses for the Columbia and Greenville clinics. Under the department's orders, the suspended clinics had to close unless they paid penalty fees and came into compliance by Sept. 28. The closure orders were lifted after the clinics paid the fines and submitted correction plans.
However, DHEC Director Catherine Heigel last month told a state House Oversight Committee that the three clinics and two medical waste disposal companies possibly face additional fines (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/13).
Kelly during the hearing said costs have increased because DHEC bolstered its clinic inspection process following a state legislative audit that found the department did not sufficiently examine abortion clinics in the state (Self, "The Buzz," Columbia State, 12/1). According to Kelly, DHEC consequently hired another inspector and reviews more documents during its clinic reviews (AP/Island Packet, 12/1).
Currently, clinics are required to pay a $350 base fee for an annual inspection, plus pay $25 for each procedure room that is examined. For follow-up inspections, clinics must make a base payment of $200, plus $25 per procedure room ("The Buzz," Columbia State, 12/1). According to Kelly, those payments now fall short of the cost of conducting the inspection by $1,400 per clinic.
The AP/Bluffton Island Packet reports that DHEC's proposed fee increases will be submitted to the state Legislature for review.
Meanwhile, Kelly also told the committee that the additional fines levied against the clinics and medical waste disposal companies were not yet finalized (AP/Bluffton Island Packet, 12/1).
Committee To Close Investigation, No Finding of Wrongdoing
In related news, Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Gary Clary (R) during the hearing said the panel likely will conclude its investigation into Planned Parenthood in January with a summary of its findings. Committee members will be able to make recommendations based on the summary ("The Buzz," Columbia State, 12/1). According to the AP/Bluffton Island Packet, the committee in January will vote on any proposed recommendations.
Meanwhile, state Rep. James Smith (D), noting that the investigation did not find any wrongdoing, said the committee should not launch future investigations without evidence. "All the fearmongering and rhetoric has shown to be devoid of any credit or value whatsoever," he said, adding, "The undeniable conclusions are basically there's nothing here of anything criminal" (AP/Bluffton Island Packet, 12/1).