Topping out: Celebrating milestone at MUSC Health behavioral center in Florence

May 24, 2024
Robby Kerr, Donna Isgett, Kathy Cole, David Cole, Teresa Myers Ervin, Jean Leatherman, Henry McMaster, Peggy McMaster, Patrick Cawley stand behind a beam with signatures on it.
From left: SCHHS Dir. Robby Kerr, McLeod Health CEO Donna Isgett, Kathy Cole, MUSC Pres. Dr. David Cole, Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin, Jean Leatherman, Gov. Henry McMaster, Peggy McMaster, MUSC Health CEO Dr. Pat Cawley. Photos by John Russell

The governor, other government officials, health care leaders, community leaders and other supporters gathered this week to celebrate the topping out ceremony for the MUSC Health Jean and Hugh K. Leatherman Behavioral Health Pavilion in Florence. The event involved the placement of the final steel beam atop the building, marking the end of the first phase of construction. The facility is being named in honor of the late Senator Hugh Leatherman and his wife Jean in recognition of the vision, dedicated service, and ongoing impact they've provided for the people of South Carolina.

MUSC President David Cole, M.D., used the occasion to highlight the purpose of the pavilion. It’s scheduled to open in October 2025.


Two men sign a beam. One is wearing a baseball cap and polo style shirt. The other one is in dress clothing. 
People sign the beam used in the topping out ceremony.

"The Leatherman Behavioral Health Pavilion will be a regional model for how to better provide care in this critical part of our community. Today is a critical mile marker for a statewide effort to take a leadership stance in creating a nation leading behavioral health care system in South Carolina. This Pavilion will change the current behavioral health reality and challenges that so many of our citizens face daily - starting with lack of access and continuity of care,” Cole said. 

That change will come thanks to the work of several institutions, said Robby Kerr, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. “We have collaboration between multiple health care systems, collaboration between multiple universities and the collaboration between state agencies.”

Construction workers stand by as people in dress clothing unfurl two flags. 
Jean Leatherman, widow of state Senator Hugh Leatherman, is third from left. Her husband's vision for a behavioral health center for the area he represented is becoming a reality. She and MUSC Health CEO Dr. Patrick Cawley hold a state flag while Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin and Governor Henry McMaster hold an American flag. Both banners hang from the beam about to be hoisted.

That includes not only MUSC and SCDHHS but also McLeod Health, Hope Health, Francis Marion University, the city of Florence and the South Carolina Department of Mental Health. 

Every one of those organizations knows just how important completing the behavioral health pavilion is, Kerr said. “We had a report released earlier this year that found that South Carolina's mental health facility-to-resident ratio is three times the national average, plus the worst among our peers in Southern states.”

A beam with an American flag and a South Carolina flag hangs in the sky. 
The flags hanging from the beam flew above the South Carolina State House last week to honor the memory of Sen. Leatherman.

And that’s not the only worrying report. A Forbes recent ranking placed South Carolina among the 10 worst states for mental health in the nation.

Despite those realities, things are improving in some areas, Kerr said. For example, South Carolina schools now have more counselors than at any time in the recent past. 

The growing demand for behavioral health care remains huge continues to push this challenge to the forefront. MUSC Health CEO Patrick Cawley, M.D., described what the pavilion will offer to help meet that demand. “First, and maybe the most important, is if you've dealt with this with your family or friends, you know that access to a rapid access center to provide walk-in triage and assessment and then offer a transition, a solution to care, is critical. That's going to be at this facility.”

Cawley said it will also offer telepsychiatry to help people across the state, a crisis stabilization unit with 16 beds for adults and four for adolescents, outpatient behavioral health services for adults and children and a 63-bed inpatient unit for people who need acute care. “In short, this place will go a long way toward easing the burden and filling the gap in this region.”

The pavilion at 121 East Cedar St. may also do something else, Cole said – with benefits that go beyond South Carolina. “I predict this hub, this new way of providing access to health care, will serve as a model, a template, for the entire state and likely the nation.”

For now, Florence Mayor Teresa Myers Ervin called the center a move forward for the area. “We've been taking care of the physical for years, but now we are united in one area to take care of the mental. That means we are now positioned to take care of the mental, the physical and the spiritual and financial needs, not only of the citizens of Florence but for those around us. By doing that, that now positioned us that we are the health care hub of this whole region. I thank our medical institutions for coming together so that they can care for the whole of our citizens,” Ervin said.

“This is smart. This is the power of partnerships.”

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