COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - On Tuesday, South Carolina saw its highest number of COVID-19 patients occupying hospital beds at 1,550 people. The state’s largest healthcare system says it’s already facing a shortage of two key coronavirus drugs, and this means doctors are having to make decisions about which patients get treatment.
Prisma Health Richland Hospital says it’s seen a 178 percent increase in hospitalizations. The hospital’s current supply of convalescent plasma, which is plasma donated from those who have recovered from the virus, and Remdesivir, a well-respected coronavirus drug, are being significantly depleted. “The situation is pretty dire,” explained Prisma Health Infectious Disease Specialist, Edwin Hayes.
Hayes has been working in the hospital’s COVID-19 units since the outbreak began and says the sooner patients receive Remdesivir or convalescent plasma therapy, the more likely they will recover. But the shortage of both drugs is causing delays in treatment. “There are people who could have potentially gotten better or prevented getting worse who lost that opportunity because we just didn’t have enough plasma available for them,” said Hayes.
Prisma Health has assigned an ethics committee to manage the supply of Remdesivir and to decide who needs the drug most. “We’re having to give these treatments judiciously because we don’t have the supply to meet the demand,” he noted.
While coronavirus case numbers are rising, the number of recovered patients donating their plasma isn’t. “Convalescent plasma is an empowering opportunity for people in the community. You know people who have been sick. You know people who are getting sick. You might have the treatment that’s going to make the difference between whether or not they live or die in your body. You have the ability to make a difference,” Hayes said.
These drug shortages and continuous rise in cases are taking a toll on healthcare workers, causing some officials to worry we could see a shortage of hospital employees soon too. “It’s very difficult for me to convey the degree of just physical and emotional strain that goes into this type of work for all of the people involved. It can be very hard to make these kinds of ethical decisions in what is a disastrous scenario,” explained Hayes.
Hayes also believes the increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations could likely lead to more patients who are being treated for other illnesses becoming sicker or even dying, not because they had the virus, but because the volume of disease was so high in the hospital that the hospital couldn’t function as it normally would for those patients.
If you have recovered from COVID-19 and would like to donate plasma to help others who are severely ill, you can reach out to the Blood Connection at 864-751-1168.
The process of donating plasma takes a little over an hour. That includes completing a questionnaire and a mini-physical, the donation itself (30-45 minutes), and a 15-minute wait period before leaving the facility.
For more information visit PrismaHealth.org.