Surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations could lead to fewer elective procedures, plans to free up beds

The statewide contingency plan would free up to 3,000 hospital beds statewide

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) —In the last month, hundreds of people in South Carolina have been hospitalized due to COVID-19.

According to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), 1,260 hospital beds are currently occupied by COVID-19 patients or people being investigated to see if they have been infected by the virus. Last month at this time, only 482 people were hospitalized due to the virus.

Several hospitals across the state are preparing for a surge in patients by implementing plans to free up to 3,000 beds.

Even though 69% of the state’s hospital beds are occupied, some hospitals are close to hitting a crucial 80 percent threshold that would cause them to go into emergency response mode.

Last week, Lexington Medical Center’s Chief Medical Officer told ABC Columbia that 80% of their more than 500 beds were occupied, though only 47 were filled by COVID-19 patients.

“Many of them are implementing their internal surge plans, several are curtailing elective surgeries as well as different non-emergent surgeries. They are repurposing staff throughout the hospital, opening additional patient floors,” said John Williams, the Director of Disaster Preparedness for the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA). 

Several agencies, including DHEC, the South Carolina National Guard, and Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), have put forth a plan that would free up to 3,000 hospital beds statewide if the numbers continue to rise.

The plan was first introduced in April, back when health experts initially thought the virus would be at its peak in South Carolina. If implemented, the plan would use facilities like coliseums, hotels, and closed hospitals to house patients with less critical needs.

According to SCEMD Director Kim Stenson, there are more than 20 spots across the state that could either be spots dedicated to quarantine/isolation, or a center for less serious medical issues.

“We don’t want to see the health care system overwhelmed so we have this plan in place to assist those hospitals to ensure that all our citizens get the care that they need,” Stenson said. 

The plan would classify facilities into three tiers. Tier One locations would be devoted to quarantine and isolation, Tier Two facilities would focus on less urgent services, and Tier Three centers would be used for more severe treatment and care for COVID-19 patients. 

“The plan all along was intended to be tailorable and scalable to our needs, with the primary goal of working with the hospitals to increase their bed capacity by moving out those less serious patients as necessary, and that’s what we are prepared and ready to do if needed,” Maj. Gen. Van McCarty, the Adjutant General of the South Carolina National Guard, told reporters at a press conference June 26.

Both Stenson and Williams stressed that all the regions in the state are equipped to handle a surge of patients, and that state agencies are prepared to help if a hospital becomes overwhelmed after that facility’s internal surge plan is enforced.

Recent DHEC data shows that hospitals in the Pee Dee (71.3%) and Lowcountry (69.7%) have the most occupied hospital beds in the state.

As of Monday, in Richland County, there are 309 hospital beds currently available (67.2% capacity) and Lexington County has 108 beds currently available (78.5% capacity). Orangeburg County (87.7% capacity) has among the least amount of hospital beds available with 20.

According to DHEC, there have been 46,247 cases of COVID-19 in South Carolina, with at least 819 deaths.

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