One vote stands between DHEC and new agency director

One vote stands between DHEC and new agency director

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - After eight months without a permanent leader, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control might have a new head by the end of the week.

The candidate for the post, Dr. Edward Simmer, received a unanimous vote to send his appointment to lead DHEC out of the Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Tuesday.

Simmer previously served as the Chief Medical Officer and Deputy Director of TRICARE Health Plan, the nation’s ninth-largest health care system that focuses on providing service members and their families with care when military treatment facilities cannot.

While speaking to lawmakers, Simmer noted his leadership experience particularly in rural communities, and his time assisting the military with their COVID-19 response.

When asked what he would’ve done to improve South Carolina’s vaccine roll out if he was in charge earlier, he pointed to the vaccine scheduling system that has frustrated and confused South Carolinians.

“The original appointment system was not ideal. The call center that rolled out on Friday backed up by the new appointment system that should roll out this week will allow people to call the call center to make the appointment that way. They won’t have to log onto the internet anymore,”

However, while that new helpline is working DHEC said on a call with reporters Tuesday their team is still working to make sure the scheduling system will be ready to meet expected demand.

Simmer is also thinking about improving the health of South Carolinians beyond the pandemic. He told Senators he wants to focus on improving social determinants of health, which means he wants to help set people up to have better health, for example, by providing better access to healthy foods and fighting addiction in the state.

“I want us to be as proactive as possible. I want to make sure that we are learning from the current crisis but other things that we do and putting those to good use,” Simmer said. “I also think you’ll find that I’ll be very transparent. I want to have very open lines of communications obviously with the members of legislation and the Governor’s office, but also with the people we serve,” he added.

Simmer said he wants to have more town halls and outreach to talk and listen to citizens. He also mentioned community outreach when it comes to encouraging people to sign up for the COVID-19 vaccine.

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“I think there is a lot that can be done there both in terms of mobile units, and I think if we can have people from those communities actually administering the vaccine. If a team from DHEC comes in that’s great, but if people from the community are actually the ones giving the vaccine I think that would be a help and using community resources not just to convince people to take the vaccine, but to have the community administer it as well,” he explained

During his hearing, some lawmakers wondered what Simmer would do if being pulled in multiple directions between the Governor, lawmakers, and the data. Simmer was clear that while he would hope to never conflict with an elected official and he would try to prevent that from happening, he would always stand for the truth, science, and the people of South Carolina.

That answer gave Senate Medical Committee Chairman Danny Verdin, R-Greenville, confidence in Simmer.

“Having a quarterback having a signal-caller in place, having the confidence to know the team is in steady hands, is going to accentuate the delivery of service to our people and we are going to see our best days in response to the pandemic before us,” Verdin said.

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