SC hospitals react to Governor McMaster’s push to speed up vaccinations

SC hospitals react to Governor McMaster’s push to speed up vaccinations

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Governor Henry McMaster says hospitals aren’t getting vaccines into people’s arms fast enough. He voiced that concern during a visit to Lexington Medical Center Monday and again on Tuesday during tours of hospital vaccination clinics in Myrtle Beach and North Charleston.

“They must be getting every shot into someone’s arm before that next shipment comes, otherwise, they aren’t doing their job,” said Governor McMaster.

In one week, South Carolina’s vaccine allocation will be based on the doses administered so far and the number of people age 65 or older. Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar made this announcement last week. According to the CDC COVID Data Tracker, the Palmetto State is the third slowest at getting the shots into people’s arms.

“The slowness of the hospitals in going to maximum capacity has been a concern,” said Governor McMaster. “I did not expect that.”

The governor is asking hospitals to speed up the process and administer all of their weekly amounts before receiving the next week’s shipment. He wants each facility to be at a 90% utilization rate or higher, and he says he’s also asked hospitals to reduce elective surgeries to free up staff for vaccinations.

“If they cannot or will not do that, I will require them to do that by an executive order,” Governor McMaster explained.

But our state’s hospitals say they are doing all they can to speed up the process, and they note there are more vaccine appointments right now than doses available.

In a statement, the South Carolina Hospital Association explains hospitals have administered 69% of the Pfizer doses they’ve received compared to the only 23% of Moderna vaccines that have been given by non-hospital providers. DHEC says all unused doses in our state have been accounted for with appointments. On top of vaccinating staff, hospitals also caring for a record number of sick patients.

At Orangeburg Regional Medical Center, interim CEO Kirk G. Wilson says they are dealing with the highest number of COVID patients they’ve seen so far.

“We use some extra supervisory staff and nursing staff who are working in areas not directly inpatient care to administer the vaccines, and many of those are also working on the floors as well,” said Wilson. “It’s very difficult for hospitals to do this, and it would be easier if the state would allocate some additional personnel to mass vaccination sites.”

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Governor McMaster says the National Guard has been deployed to help with testing and vaccinations, but Orangeburg RMC says soldiers aren’t there helping them. While the hospital’s vaccine utilization rate is at 118%, they’ve not yet opened vaccines to those 70 and older.

“We wanted to make sure that our employees, the employees of our doctors and those employed in the healthcare professions in our two counties got their vaccines first,” Wilson explained. “We didn’t know if we would have extra vaccine for the members of the general public, and we didn’t want to lead them astray by setting up appointments when we weren’t even sure we could get the vaccine.”

RMC has already reduced elective surgeries and is hopeful they won’t have to postpone all of them.

“We hope that because we’ve been good citizens with our vaccine that any order for a determination to cease elective surgeries won’t apply to those hospitals who have used up their entire stock of vaccine every single week,” Wilson noted.

Regional Medical Center says it plans to triple its vaccine request from DHEC next week and if they receive enough doses, they plan to start vaccinating those 70 and older at a gym near the hospital beginning the week of February 1st. It will be on a first come first served basis, and appointments or pre-registration will not be required.

While some of our state’s largest hospitals like Lexington Medical Center and MUSC have some doses sitting on ice, they say they’ve all been accounted for. LMC has around 5,500 vaccines in inventory right now, but there are nearly 10,000 appointments booked between now and February 5. The hospital says more than half of those are for second doses.

DHEC says they have now advised hospitals to not hold on to doses for the second shot, as second doses are ordered and come from future allocations to fulfill second-dose appointments.

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