'The patients deserve this': MUSC Health Black River Medical Center opens with new technology, expertise

January 19, 2023
Nurse Marsha Floyd helps patient Adonis Doctor get ready to leave the emergency department. He's sitting on a bed as she reaches for him.
Nurse Marsha Floyd helps Adonis Doctor, one of Black River's first patients. Photo by Sarah Pack

A patient with the last name Doctor happened to be among the first patients to see the doctors at MUSC Health Black River Medical Center. Adonis Doctor of Johnsonville, South Carolina, came by ambulance to the brand-new hospital in the rural community of Cades in Williamsburg County.

“It was my blood pressure; my head was hurting,” he said after he got treatment to ease his pain and address the underlying issue. 

In the past, he said he’d have had to travel another 20 minutes to get to a hospital in Florence. Doctor is happy to have a medical center much closer to home. “It’s nice. They have good people. They don’t have you waiting, either.”

Sign saying MUSC Health Black River Medical Center is open. 
The Black River Medical Center on Williamsburg County Highway in Cades. Photo by Sarah Pack

The opening of the Black River Medical Center is a welcome new chapter for many people in an area that has gone through challenging times when it comes to health care. Lake City Community Hospital, about 10 minutes from Cades, and Williamsburg Regional Hospital in Kingstree, about 15 minutes away, closed their doors. Many employees of those hospitals now work at Black River. 

That includes nurse Debra Holliday, who worked for years at Williamsburg Regional — before heavy rain in October 2015 led to damage so severe that the building became unusable.

Woman in blue scrubs works at a computer monitor. 
Nurse Debra Holliday is pleased to work in the brand-new hospital after working for years in a temporary structure in Kingstree. Photo by Sarah Pack

“In April of 2016 we opened a modular facility and stayed there for six years,” Holliday said, referring to a temporary facility on the hospital campus. “So everybody who comes to visit Black River from MUSC Health hospitals in Marion and Florence and talks about how nice our equipment is, I tell them I’m not sorry. I’m not going to apologize, because it’s been rough for a long time.”

That’s why she’s thrilled to be in a new, state-of-the-art hospital. “We are so grateful — all of us. Lake City Hospital wasn’t going to survive. They had financial issues and the hospital itself had issues. Williamsburg definitely did. This is just a great opportunity.”

Doctor in a white coat uses a stethoscope to listen to a woman sitting on a hospital bed. 
Dr. Cristo Courban listens to Ola Mae Capers, of Lake City, take a deep breath. Capers was the first emergency department patient at the newly opened MUSC Health Black River Medical Center. Photo by John Russell

Surgeon Joseph Asaro, M.D., also came to Black River from Williamsburg Regional Hospital. “It’s beautiful. And bigger than I expected. I’m just excited about all of us finally bringing our care, which has been top-notch. We had patient satisfaction scores in the 90s for years, which is great. Now we have the facility to match that. I feel like we all deserve this, and the patients deserve this as well. So it’s exciting.”


Those patients now have access to equipment that hasn’t been available in the past in their area. For example, a machine that does 3D mammograms. Mammography tech Tonya Carpenter explained why it’s so beneficial when it comes to screening for breast cancer. “It takes three dimensional images so instead of just taking four normal pictures it takes a bunch of pictures so they can tell whether you need to come back. It’s just so much clearer.”


Black River Medical Center also has the first permanent MRI in Williamsburg County. MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. It’s a noninvasive way to get detailed images of just about every internal part of the body.


Woman on blue jacket gestures at a large white piece of equipment. 
Mammography tech Tonya Carpenter talks about 3D mammograms. Photo by Sarah Pack

And Ken Watts, director of imaging services, said the hospital has an excellent setup for people who come in suffering from strokes. It’s designed to get the patient from ambulance to brain scan, the first step in assessing a stroke, as quickly as possible. 

“Time is of the essence. So we’re probably able to get results of a stroke quicker here than anywhere in the system. Just because of the proximity of emergency medical services dropping off to getting to CT.” CT stands for computerized tomography. It tells medical staff what type of stroke the patient has, which guides what type of treatment is needed.

Rami Zebian, M.D., serves as chief medical officer for MUSC Health’s Florence division, which includes the Black River hospital. He said it’s reassuring to patients to know that Black River Medical Center is part of the larger MUSC Health system. “We are looking to have the best care locally. And we’re doing MUSC level of care with the help of specialists through telemedicine that are in various locations serving patients here locally.”

People standing outside hospital raise hands while posing fora large group photo. 
Employees celebrate the opening of the Black River Medical Center. Photo by John Russell

It's reassuring to employees, too. Nurse Marsha Floyd, formerly of Williamsburg Regional Medical Center, marveled at the change. “We’ve got more equipment than we ever dreamed we could have. We got more space than we ever dreamed we’d have. It’s going to take some getting used to, but we’re excited.”

MUSC Health Black River Medical Center, at 64,000 square feet, has 25 inpatient beds, four observation beds, two operating rooms and 16 emergency treatment rooms. Zebian said it’s a great addition to an area that badly needed such a hospital. “Everybody I’ve talked to says, 'Well, if I’m sick, I’d rather be here.'”

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