COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Hospitals around the state are filling up. On Thursday, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported a record number of hospital beds that are filled by COVID-19 patients.
A total of 7,998 beds were in use with 1,723 being COVID-19 patients, which DHEC said is a 64% bed occupancy rate statewide. DHEC reported a nearly 20% from Wednesday to Thursday, from 84% to 65% in hospital occupancy. Yet, hospitals also reported nearly 100 more COVID-19 patients hospitalized than the day before.
The South Carolina Hospital Association said the situation is even worse than what the numbers indicate when it comes to how many beds are available. They added many hospitals around the state are struggling as they near full capacity.
“Those are tricky numbers though because it seems like there’s a whole lot more availability then there actually is,” Melanie Matney, the chief operating officer for the South Carolina Hospital Association, said.
Matney said this is because reporting methods changed. Thursday was the first day DHEC used a new federal tracking system that added nearly 1,000 beds to the total beds available in the state.
“That is all beds. That’s bassinets, nursery beds, psychiatric beds, rehab beds, any type of bed that might be within a hospital is included in that number,” Matney said.
She said many of these beds can’t be used for COVID-19 patients and, contrary to the numbers, the situation is getting worse.
“Many are above that 90% occupancy rate figure and they are struggling to clean the rooms and get patients into rooms,” Matney said.
Matney said some hospitals have started to open up alternate care sites to create additional beds outside of the hospital. One hospital that has done this is the Regional Medical Center in Orangeburg. Matney said other hospitals 0are trying to find other hospitals for patients, to no avail.
“Many of them have reached out for assistance in transporting patients to other hospitals who might not have the same level of utilization, but what we are finding is that many hospitals are in the same boat and they are holding patients in the emergency departments and waiting for beds to free up in the hospital,” Matney said.
DHEC’s latest reports said Richland County and Lexington County both have over 75% occupancy at their hospitals.
“It’s a very difficult time right now. The only way that we can really help the situation is to stop the spread,” Matney said.
Dr. Anthony Alberg, the chair of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at UofSC Arnold School of Public Health, said that the hospitalization numbers could get worse. He said that hospitalization rates normally lag a few weeks behind the case numbers, which have continued to stay at high levels over the past few weeks.
“So, we know that those numbers are going to increase,” Dr. Alberg said. “The big concern of all this is that the number of severe cases that need hospitalization gets so large that we can’t accommodate them with our medical care infrastructure, and that’s when we are in a crisis state.”
Officials with DHEC said the accuracy of the data from the new federally required tracking system is expected to improve. DHEC added it is aware of at least one hospital that had an issue reporting the data in the new system.