Author Archives: SC DHEC

A year later, SC can’t let down its guard yet

Seema Shrivastava-Patel, S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control, District 2

When COVID-19 swept into South Carolina last March, the deadly disease proceeded to hit us with a gut punch. We did the only thing we could: joined hands and hit back with our initial plans to confront an unknown, rapidly evolving situation.

A year later, we’re still standing, together, fighting the worst pandemic our country has seen in over 100 years. With vaccines now available, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

We South Carolinians have been through a lot this past year.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control officials reported our state’s first two cases on March 6, 2020. Since then, the virus has sickened and killed many of our loved ones, friends and neighbors. None of us were exempt, my family included.

Our schools, businesses and hospitals have been severely tested. Our lives were disrupted: We went from working and worshipping side by side to being forced to not gather at all in many instances. A simple trip for groceries required wearing masks and keeping six feet apart.

It’s been a tremendous strain on our mental health, another challenge we must address, together.

As a member of the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control, I am proud to say that, through it all, South Carolinians have had no greater champions than DHEC’s many skilled public health and environmental control professionals. The pandemic, like hurricanes, has caused broad complications that highlight the advantage and importance of having health and environmental functions working together under one agency.

Everything DHEC has done hasn’t been flawless. There is no perfection to be found when battling a killer, unpredictable pandemic; challenges arise that force you to create solutions as you go. But everything DHEC does comes from a good place and for a good purpose.

It’s all about people first: keeping South Carolinians healthy and alive.

While it’s the state’s lead public health agency, DHEC can’t beat COVID-19 alone. The Governor’s Office, the Legislature, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, South Carolina Emergency Management Division and other state agencies, National Guard, S.C. Hospital Association, hospitals and other providers, frontline workers, volunteers, citizens, and many faith and community partners have been critical to this fight and I thank you. Your selfless commitment to the health and safety of all South Carolinians is deeply appreciated.

DHEC continues to lead disease control activities and keep the public updated.

From collecting and analyzing data to developing statewide testing and contact tracing to drafting a vaccination plan, it’s been a long haul.

The agency’s commitment has been unwavering: 2,883 DHEC staff have worked 1,469,225 hours so far as part of the response. Still, the agency continued to provide critical health and environmental services many in our state depend on.

As of March 1, South Carolina has:

· Conducted more than 6 million tests through DHEC and other partners

· Increased contact tracing staff from 20 statewide before COVID-19 to more than 650

· Answered more than 292,000 calls to the CareLine and vaccination call center

· Given 1,003,558 COVID-19 vaccine shots

· Fully vaccinated 304,724 South Carolinians against COVID-19

· Held more than 33,000 testing events, with over 7,800 more scheduled through March 31

The priority now is vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible while ensuring that all South Carolinians, including those in rural areas, underserved groups, and minorities, are included.

We can’t lower our guards now. Please, stay safe and get tested. When it’s your turn, get vaccinated. Together, with all arms on deck, we can defeat COVID-19. We owe it to ourselves and the many we’ve lost to this dreaded disease.

Seema Shrivastava-Patel is a member of the S.C. Board of Health and Environmental Control and represents Congressional District 2.

DHEC recognizes World Hearing Day, March 3

World Hearing Day is recognized internationally every year on March 3 by raising awareness on ear and hearing care and deafness and hearing loss prevention. This year’s theme is “Hearing Care for All – Screen. Rehabilitate. Communicate”.  The theme focuses on advocacy for hearing loss and diseases throughout all life stages, newborn to elderly.

Did you know:

Hearing loss prevention is quite simple:

  • Use earplugs in noisy environments.
  • Keep the volume down when using earbuds or headphones.
  • Learn what the warning signs are for hearing loss.
  • Have your hearing checked regularly, perhaps at a yearly physical.
  • Consult with an audiologist at the earliest sign of hearing loss. Generally, a hearing test is covered by insurance, including Medicaid and Medicare and is the first step to addressing an issue that could worsen without intervention.

In our capacity as a regulatory agency, DHEC serves to license hearing aid specialists. Hearing Aid Specialists (HAS) are healthcare professionals whose  job is to measure human hearing, usually adults, with an audiometer specifically to fit, make selections, adapt, or sell hearing aids. An individual would seek services from a hearing aid specialist if they need a hearing test, to purchase hearing aids, and for the programming and maintenance of hearing aids. The distinguishing difference between a hearing aid specialist and an audiologist is that the audiologist diagnoses and treats hearing related issues, and is required to have an advanced degree. An audiologist would be necessary if you’ve noticed changes in your hearing, ringing in your ears, or need assistance with hearing implant programming and aftercare such as cochlear implants. DHEC licenses hearing aid specialists, while the S.C. Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation’s Board of Speech-Language Pathology & Audiology licenses audiologists. To find a hearing aid specialist near you, search DHEC’s map of licensed health facilities and services here.

DHEC’s Food Safety Team Recognized as Outstanding Community Leader of 2021

The SC Restaurant & Lodging Association (SCRLA) recently presented DHEC with the Outstanding Community Leader Award. 

During the 68th Annual Stars of the Industry Awards Luncheon, the agency’s food safety team was recognized for our collaborative efforts with SCRLA while navigating the pandemic. 

“The restaurant industry is a valued part of our community both for employees and consumers,” said Sandra Craig, Director for the Division of Food and Lead Risk Assessments. “Our team has worked diligently and in innovative ways to ensure food safety compliance during this unprecedented time. We are honored by this recognition as well as the partnership we have with the SC Restaurant and Lodging Association.” 

In response to COVID-19 and for the safety of DHEC employees, clients, and the public, the food safety team: 

  • Helped develop guidance for restaurant reopening; 
  • Implemented virtual inspections; and  
  • Assisted in developing and launching the Palmetto Priority Seal of Commitment. 

“The professional and technical support in writing the Restaurant Reopening Guidance documents that preceded FDA and NRA guidance helped get our industry the information needed to re-open safely,” stated the email informing DHEC of the honor. “Establishing the Virtual Food Safety Check and transitioning to the Limited Scope inspection ensured compliance and customer safety. And, your team’s professional assistance helped in developing and launching the Palmetto Priority Seal of Commitment, again, before any other state or national program was launched.” 

As of Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, the team has completed 24,793 virtual inspectionsThe Palmetto Priority Seal is a program that allows restaurants to verify that they have taken specific protective actions to limit the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

DHEC Recognizes Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education Week

DHEC recognizes Alzheimer’s and Dementia Staff Education Week by highlighting the importance of the training and education of the exceptional staff that care for patients all across South Carolina, including in nursing homes, community residential care facilities, and providers, such as in-home care providers and home health agencies. DHEC’s Healthcare Quality regulates 207 facilities that offer memory care services.   

Providers and staff at Alzheimer’s care facilities are always learning as much as possible on how to both better prevent and improve treatments for dementias, but they have  also been faced with the new challenge of educating themselves on COVID-19 infection control and prevention. These individuals have had to quickly adapt to evolving requirements and recommendations regarding physical contact, visitors, and daily routines for patients.  

Changes to routines, use of unfamiliar personal protective equipment (PPE), and disruption to daily schedules are enough to confuse anyone, but Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are at an increased risk of depression and worsening behavioral changes, such as agitation, aggression, and wandering.  

DHEC is proud of the amazing providers and staff at these facilities who have helped make these new transitions easier for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, while still prioritizing their treatments and care. We have witnessed families and caregivers working with providers and Alzheimer’s care facility staff to develop new ways to improve the mental health of their loved ones suffering from dementias as well as their physical health.  

While adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) COVID-19 Guidance for Caregivers of People Living with Dementia in Community Settings and Considerations for Memory Care Units in Long-Term Care Facilitiesthese staff members also benefit from the general public learning more about prevention and warning signs of dementias. Healthcare Quality team members have helped answer questions memory care staff may have concerning such guidance.  

DHEC celebrates these individuals and strongly encourages the community to continue to learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia in order to help improve lives. 

Know the Signs  

Besides celebrating the individuals that care for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, DHEC’s Healthcare Quality wants you to know the onset signs of such healthcare concerns. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, some signs and symptoms that could indicate the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s may include: 

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life 
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems 
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks 
  • Confusion with time or place 
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships 
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing 
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps 
  • Decreased or poor judgment 
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities 
  • Changes in mood and personality 

Upon receiving a diagnosis, caregivers and their loved ones are faced with a long list of questions. How long until the disease progresses? Can I afford long-term care for my loved one? How can I anticipate their needs?  

Now facing the reality of living with COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, new concerns and fears start to emerge as well. It is due to the industrious efforts and ongoing education of providers and staff at Alzheimer’s care facilities and in the community that these patients can be cared for with the utmost respect, knowledge, and safety.

DHEC Recognizes American Hearth Month in February #OurHearts

February is often associated with hearts and love, celebrating Valentine’s Day. Though we support showing your loved ones how much you care, we also support showing yourself some love by caring for your heart!

Heart disease was the number one cause of death in South Carolina in 2017-2019. To recognize American Heart Month, DHEC’s Healthcare Quality has put together a list of ways you can love your heart and be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.  

Aerobic exercise, otherwise known as “cardio”, is used to strengthen heart and blood vessels, improve oxygen flow, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly made it difficult to incorporate exercise into a daily routine. With gym closings and an at-home gym equipment shortage, many are finding creative ways to still give their heart the care it needs through exercise.  

Below are some ideas if you do not have access to a gym or equipment: 

  • Body weight aerobics like squats, burpees, lunges, push-ups, sit-ups and more
  • Utilizing stairs for a cardiovascular workout
  • Going outdoors for a walk or run
  • Dancing 

Exercise isn’t the only solution to maintaining a healthy heart. 

Stress management is a tool that many often overlook as a preventative measure to declining heart health. Chronic stress can lead to unhealthy behaviors to cope such as smoking, overeating, and heavy alcohol consumption.  

COVID-19 is a chronic stressor all of us have had to endure this past year. Visit this link for more information on how to manage stress during the pandemic. You may also visit DHEC’s Worksite Wellness and Safety page for health-related tips, and for resources coping with the mental and emotional strain of COVID-19, you can check out the agency’s Mental Health Resources page for employees.  

Acute stress, stress that is short-term, can lead to a rise in blood pressure and heart rate. Managing stress can come in many forms. Most people would think of a vacation first, which is a great way to decompress. However, due to travel restrictions from COVID-19, alternatives are needed.  

Below are some ideas to help you brainstorm ways you may want to try and relieve stress: 

  • Volunteering  
  • Laughing  
  • Painting, drawing, making music, etc.  
  • Exercising (double the benefit if this is a stress reliever for you) 
  • Reading (you can check out books for free from a local library) 
  • Meditation 
  • Keep a daily journal 

For more information on how to stay heart healthy, visit heart.orgor the CDC 

During the month of February, DHEC hopes that one of the acts of love you show is one to yourself and your heart. By committing to leading a healthier lifestyle and managing stress in healthier ways, we can fight the statistic of heart disease being the number one cause of death in South Carolina.