SC National Guard arrives to 5 area hospitals for staffing support as COVID-19 cases surge

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MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WBTW) – The South Carolina National Guard will provide essential staffing support for five hospitals along the Grand Strand as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to surge across the region.

About 40 medics with the South Carolina National Guard will arrived Wednesday to provide clinical support at Conway Medical Center, McLeod Loris, McLeod Seacoast, Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital.

Five of the medics will work in the emergency department for Tidelands Health, where the director says they are overcrowded and the ICU is operating at 113% capacity.

“Hospitals are full,” Doctor William Richmond, director of the Emergency Department for Tidelands Health said. “Regionally they [hospitals] are full, ICU’s are full, ER’s are full, ER’s are backed up and one of our biggest needs is just man power.”

Richmond says to see National Guard medics walk in the hospital was a “sight for sore eyes.”

“They can start IV’s they can draw blood, transport patients and do EKG’S, take vitals,” he explained. “Basic ER stuff, but it’s very very helpful ER stuff.”

Richmond says he and other physicians at Tidelands noticed the surge in cases two weeks after Memorial Day.

“Before, we saw sporadic cases, a few cases here and there,” Richmond said. “Right now, I think we have 50-something in the hospital; many in the ICU, on ventilators, oxygen.”

The area’s hospitals worked collaboratively through the South Carolina Hospital Association, Georgetown County Emergency Management and Horry County Emergency Management to request and receive Guard support.

“Over the past month, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased significantly in Georgetown and Horry counties,” said Thornton Kirby, SCHA president and CEO. “Staffing support from the National Guard will allow the region’s hospitals, which are operating at or near capacity, to expand their ability to care for patients in need.”

COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in the region, with more than 4,000 new cases diagnosed in Georgetown and Horry counties since July 1. All of the region’s hospitals are at or near capacity in their emergency departments, intensive care units and inpatient care units.

“Currently the demand that COVID is putting on hospitals, far exceeds the capabilities that the hospitals can keep up with right now,” director for disaster preparedness at the South Carolina Hospital Association, John Williams said. “In a normal situation, you would have an abundance of staff to move within the hospitals own blueprint, by this being a South Carolina issue, as well as a National issue, you don’t have the staff readily available to assist.”

“The staff here at CMC and other health care organizations throughout the region have performed tremendously well in unprecedented circumstances,” said Bret Barr, president and CEO of Conway Medical Center. “The specialized care required for COVID-19 patients in isolation places a strain on the entire staffing system. Plus, as this virus spreads throughout our communities, it has inevitably begun to directly infect front line health care workers who sacrifice so much for those around them.

“We are grateful to the National Guard for coming to the aid of our communities yet again and ensuring our region’s health care needs are met.”

Added Monica Vehige, administrator of McLeod Loris Seacoast Hospital, “McLeod Health, like most health systems across the nation, continues to be challenged by this ever-evolving pandemic. We are grateful to partner with the National Guard and receive their generous overture of staffing support to prepare for more predicted surges of COVID-19.

“Our teams have been steadfast in their care of a coastal community, which is greatly impacted by the transmission of this illness. In keeping with our mission of both service and stewardship, supporting our staff with more hands in this work ensures our focus on the best outcomes for patients and our people. We are extremely thankful for cooperation and responsiveness to this effort by the National Guard, the South Carolina Hospital Association and all of the hospitals and their health care teams.”

This is not the first time National Guard personnel have provided vital support for the region’s hospitals during an emergency. The Guard has responded both before and after natural disasters in recent years, including flooding and hurricanes.

Most recently, Guard members have begun working with Tidelands Health and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to help staff large-scale COVID-19 testing events in the region. The next free testing event will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at Coastal Carolina University, and Guard members will be on hand to assist.

Widespread community testing is a key strategy to help slow the spread of the highly contagious virus.

“We are profoundly grateful for the National Guard’s help, but we need our community’s help, too,” said Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of Tidelands Health. “This is not a hoax. People are sick and dying in our region. Wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, observe social distancing and practice good hand hygiene. Your hospitals need your support right now as we all work together to save lives.”

About Conway Medical Center

Conway Medical Center is defined by its historical ability to consistently meet the healthcare needs of Horry County. The nonprofit medical center was established in 1928 as Horry County’s first hospital and has 210 inpatient beds, an Outpatient Diagnostic Center, and a multi-specialty group of 23 physician offices affiliated with the hospital located both on-site at the hospital and throughout Horry County. CMC’s outstanding medical staff includes over 300 physicians representing 35 specialties. Servingpatients with care and compassion, their award-winning team of medical professionals utilizes high-tech equipment and modalities. For more information, please visit www.ConwayMedicalCenter.com

About McLeod Health

Founded in 1906, McLeod Health is a locally owned and managed, not for profit organization supported by the strength of approximately 750 members on its medical staff and more than 2,700 licensed nurses (RNs, CRNAs, NPs, APRNs, LPNs). McLeod Health is also composed of approximately 8,800 employees and more than 75 physician practices throughout its 18-county service area. With seven hospitals, McLeod Health operates three Health and Fitness Centers, a Sports Medicine and Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, a Behavioral Health Center, Hospice, and Home Health Services. The hospitals within McLeod Health include: McLeod Regional Medical Center, McLeod Health Darlington, McLeod Health Dillon, McLeod Health Loris, McLeod Health Seacoast, McLeod Health Cheraw and McLeod Health Clarendon. On the coast, the McLeod Health Carolina Forest complex has opened the first two of seven medical park office buildings as an extension of McLeod Loris Seacoast Hospital. The organization also recently opened the new McLeod Health Carolina Forest Emergency Department. The only Emergency Department in Carolina Forest, the 13,000 square-foot department, which is open 24/7, offers streamlined services, including 15 spacious exam rooms and state-of-the-art trauma facilities with advanced diagnostic equipment.

About Tidelands Health

Tidelands Health is the region’s largest health care provider, serving the Carolinas at four hospitals and more than 60 outpatient locations. More than 2,500 employee, physician and volunteer partners are working side by side with our communities to transform the health of our region – promoting wellness, preventing illness, encouraging recovery and restoring health.

About South Carolina Hospital Association

SCHA is a private, not-for-profit organization founded in 1921 to serve as the collective voice of South Carolina’s hospital community. Today it represents approximately 100 member hospitals and health systems and 500 personal members. Together, we are leading South Carolina to a better state of health.

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