Long-term care facility residents and staff have represented about 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. At the same time, the year-long visitation restrictions also took a tremendous toll on residents, family members, caregivers, and facility staff, especially with residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
“Ongoing changes and restrictions related to COVID-19 impacted our most vulnerable population,” said JoMonica Taylor, Director of Residential Facilities Division in the Bureau of Community Care. “Amidst staffing shortages, increase in infection rates and lockdowns, facility’s staff remained a physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the residents, especially those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
DHEC worked with facilities over the past year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and find ways that facilities could still offer a connection between residents and loved ones, including tablets and other telecommunications, window visits, and isolation barrier visits.
Long-term care facilities in South Carolina are now required to allow visitation at all times for all residents in accordance with DHEC guidelines, including indoor visits, outdoor visits, compassionate care visits, and window visits. With long-term care facilities reopened and widespread vaccine availability, DHEC leaders that oversee these facilities express their appreciation to facility staff.
“DHEC would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the facilities and their staff for their commitment to taking care of and keeping safe one of our most precious populations during this past year of uncertainty and change,” said Angie Smith, Director of the Bureau of Community Care. “DHEC stands along with the facilities and their staff and their commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia population.”
As a reminder, DHEC continues to help administer CMS’s Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Reinvestment Program, which supports projects that benefit nursing home residents and improve their quality of life. Many of the projects are designed to help alleviate and comfort residents suffering with dementia.
More information on the program and how entities can apply for funds to support an eligible project are available on DHEC’s website here.
DHEC’s Division of Tobacco Control and Prevention and the Midlands Community Systems team recently celebrated with community partners for Lancaster County going tobacco free. Congratulations and a big thank you to our community partners in Lancaster County, especially the Lancaster County Health and Wellness commission, for all they have done to protect residents from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.
In 2013, Lancaster became the first county in the state to ban indoor smoking at its public facilities and municipal government. Many other public agencies also adopted tobacco-free policies at that time. In 2019, three remaining public entities needed to adopt tobacco-free policies for the county to be considered fully tobacco-free – the first such county in South Carolina.
The Division of Tobacco Control and Prevention and the Midlands Community Systems team were able to offer support and resources to help Lancaster County achieve this incredible milestone. By July 2020, the three remaining entities passed tobacco free polices.
To celebrate and show our appreciation for all the hard work achieved by our partners, we provided tobacco free signs to all seven entities. A billboard on I-77 also recognized this accomplishment.
June is Pride Month, and June 27 is Pride Day. These are opportunities to celebrate achievements by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and acknowledge challenges these individuals may face when it comes to public health and environmental justice.
“Pride month, and Pride celebrations in general, are a vital part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Billy Wiggins, Director of Clinical Services for the DHEC Public Health Bureau of Community Health Services, and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. “Celebrations, such as Pride, provide important moments of visibility and understanding. In honor of Pride Month, people are encouraged to take some time to learn more about the challenges, accomplishments, and diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
LGBTQIA+ community stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.
Pride celebrations started as protests dating back to the Stonewall riots in June 1969 New York City (NYC). In 2016 the Stonewall site in NYC was declared a national monument.
To recognize the meaningful impact that our LGBTQIA+ community has had in the fields of environmental protection and public health, we’ve spotlighted several notable public figures who have and/or are making a difference in our communities.
“For almost 15 years DHEC’s STD/HIV and viral hepatitis division has partnered with SC Pride to offer outreach and testing services during the annual Pride festival,” saidTony Price, Prevention Program Manager of that Division. “DHEC has provided free testing for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C. At some of the events, DHEC has also provided vaccines for hepatitis A/B and influenza. The division has enjoyed a strong partnership with SC Pride, its leadership, and participants in the past. We look forward to continuing our efforts to support the LGBTQIA+ community with our health promotion and outreach programs.”
Two notable public health figures who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community are Michael J. Kaplan and Dr. Rachel Levine.
Kaplan is currently the President and CEO of Melanoma Research Alliance, and before that he was President and CEO of Washington, DC-based AIDS United. During his 25 years of executive non-profit and public health leadership experience, Kaplan has proven to be a supporter of health research and policy, mainly in the area of serving people living with HIV/AIDS in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Levine became the first openly transgender federal official in a Senate-confirmed role earlier this year when she was named Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. She has served as: Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health; Pennsylvania’s Physician General; Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics; and Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. In addition to her recent posts in medicine and government, Dr. Levine is an accomplished speaker and author of numerous publications on the opioid crisis, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBT medicine.
As for public health challenges, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide, and 40 percent of transgender adults report having attempted suicide. According to a 2017 study from the University of Chicago, “Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America.” LGBT youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to the CDC. More information on LGBTQIA+ health is available on the CDC’s website.
DHEC uses the definition created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to define Environmental Justice (EJ) “as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Our agency’s five EJ principles are:
Ensure that Environmental Justice Communities are Routinely Considered Throughout Decision-Making Processes.
Proactively Build and Strengthen Relationships with Communities by Sharing Information, Providing Technical Assistance, and Identifying Resources.
Proactively Promote Partnerships Between Communities and Other Stakeholders.
Encourage and Facilitate Capacity Building and Collaborative Problem Solving Within Environmental Justice Communities.
Strengthen Our Agency’s Leadership with the Goal of Sustaining Environmental Justice within SC DHEC.
You can learn more about EJ by clicking here. A few members of LGBTQIA+ community that are notable for their contributions to the environment are:
Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose influential book “Silent Spring” and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. “Silent Spring” was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, but it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Mahri Monson, an Environmental Protection Specialist for the EPA, describes her work as “enforcing U.S. environmental laws, addressing serious pollution problems to protect communities and the environment.” A proponent of green infrastructure, Monson’s work strategizes storm management and mitigates sewer overflows, providing environmental and social benefits for communities throughout the country. Monson also worked alongside co-workers to create a policy concerning transgender and gender nonconforming EPA employees, including a guide to transitioning at the EPA and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
June 19th is World Sickle Cell Day across the globe! Every year, the international health community recognizes Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) as a debilitating genetic disease that impacts families across the globe. Keeping individuals and communities informed about the struggles that come with daily management of SCD, can help raise awareness as well as debunk stereotypes and stigmas associated with persons who have SCD.
At birth, every child has a newborn screening test performed to screen for different genetic disorders. Newborn screening consists of testing newborns for certain harmful or potentially fatal disorders that aren’t otherwise apparent at birth. In 1987, sickle cell disease was added to this testing panel to screen newborns for sickle cell disease and sickle cell trait for South Carolina. It is very important to know if your newborn has trait, because you, your partner, and family can determine if additional screening is necessary and what additional steps you should take.
South Carolina has had two forecasted Code Orange Ozone Action Days since Ground-level Ozone forecasting season began on April 1st of this year. A Code Orange Ozone Action Day means that atmospheric conditions will likely produce concentrations of ground level ozone air pollution that may be unhealthy for sensitive groups, which includes people with lung disease, older adults, and children.
Ozone typically forms with highest concentrations on warm, hot, sunny days with light wind speeds, which allows more of the pollutant to form and accumulate. Forecasting ground-level ozone concentrations is an educated prediction based on certain weather conditions and emissions. DHEC has a team of experienced meteorologists on staff that review weather and air quality information daily to produce a next-day ozone forecast, which is posted on DHEC’s own ozone website and U.S. EPA’s AIRNow website.
Knowing the Ground-level Ozone Forecast ahead of time allows you to make plans and adjust your schedule and activities for the next day. Sensitive groups should reduce prolonged or heavy outdoor exertion, take more breaks, and do less intense activities, especially during afternoon and early evening hours when ozone concentrations are typically highest.
Knowing the Ground-level Ozone Forecastahead of time also allows you to make informed decisions that can help reduce air pollution and decrease ground-level ozone by:
Refueling your car after 6:00 PM and don’t top off your tank
Using electric powered lawn equipment
Avoiding driving during peak traffic hours
Combining trips when you drive
Telecommuting (work from home) if possible
Taking your lunch to work
Sign up to receive forecasts via emails, texts or tweets (customized to fit your style) using EPA’s free EnviroFlash service at www.enviroflash.info. For additional information about ozone and air quality, click here.