COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -Twenty-six out of about 95 hospitals in South Carolina had an occupancy rate of 90% or more on the first day of the New Year, according to the South Carolina Hospital Association.
In a statement to WIS, a spokesperson for SCHA wrote, “We have serious concerns about the capacity of our hospitals as they continue to respond to COVID surges related to holiday gatherings. We recognize that this surge is likely to continue throughout January as we see more cases related to holiday travel.”
SCHA Disaster Preparedness Director John Williams said hospitals being at 90% occupancy does not necessarily mean they are diverting patients or sending them to other hospitals for care, but those steps become a possibility once patient occupancy hits this high rate.
“When a hospital is at 90% capacity a hospital may have to tweak how they administer patient care. Not to the point where you’re not getting the patient care you need or deserve. It’s just a hospital may need to go on inpatient diversion where they can’t admit. Or a hospital may need to go on diversion in their [emergency department] to where they don’t have all the resources that they would typically have in their emergency department,” Williams explained.
Williams stressed that while diversions become a possibility at these high occupancy rates, each hospital has its own, tailored surge plan and may not need to divert any patients at this time.
“We are not to the point where hospitals are diverting to another hospital and that hospital is diverting to another, we are in a good place where hospital leaders lean on each other, have frequent calls with each other, and support one another,” Williams said. “Hospitals prepare for times like this, not necessarily a pandemic, but they do prepare for surge, there are contingency plans in place,” he added. Williams made it clear he wants people to still go to their hospital if they need care.
One of the major hurdles hospitals in South Carolina and around the nation are facing is staffing shortages as COVID-19 cases continue to increase. Williams said in South Carolina and in many other states they need more clinicians, “yesterday.” He explained some hospitals are asking retired nurses and doctors to see if they are interested in coming back to work. Williams also said some hospital leaders are putting their scrubs back on and helping with vaccinations or patient care if their hospital needs the extra help.
In a Saturday news conference, the SC Department of Health and Environment Control also said they are asking hospitals to help their communities by having their teams administer the vaccine to community members in the first phase of the rollout. DHEC has confirmed to WIS is working with an outside company to find people who can help with immunizations.
“South Carolina is not immune to feeling burn out, there is a physical toll and an emotional toll,” Williams said of the strain being placed on frontline workers.
Williams said he hears a lot from people who want to help clinicians in the state and he said staying at home and practicing social distancing, masking whenever in public, and frequently washing our hands are the best things people in our state can do to help our doctors and nurses.