At DHEC, our diverse and talented team of employees share a passion for making a difference. From providing critical environmental, healthcare, public health and administrative support services to responding to natural disasters and being leaders in their fields, our employees are helping improve the lives of South Carolinians every day. To celebrate this work, we’re launching a new “We Are DHEC” campaign.
“We Are DHEC” recognizes a handful of DHEC’s outstanding employees whose work is helping to move forward our agency’s mission and vision through our Bridge Strategic Plan. Over the course of the next several months, we will be sharing some of your stories and the stories of your peers who embody DHEC’s core values of:
Thank you to everyone who helped make this campaign possible and to all our employees for the work you do daily to help DHEC achieve our mission “to improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians by protecting and promoting the health of the public and the environment.” We hope these stories inspire you to raise awareness about the great work we are doing at DHEC.
During the month of August, DHEC would like to recognize the 68 Ambulatory Surgery Centers across the state for National Ambulatory Surgery Center Month. As COVID-19 has introduced new challenges to our healthcare system and patients, these facilities and their staff have shown great flexibility and commitment to providing solutions.
The agency’s Healthcare Quality provides state and federal oversight of surgery centers. Ambulatory surgery centers must be licensed and can also be certified.
Ambulatory surgery, also known as outpatient surgery, does not require an overnight hospital stay. Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs), sometimes referred to as Ambulatory Surgical Facilities, specialize in this type of care and keep hospitals uncrowded and available for more invasive procedures and longer recovery times.
ASCs also provide flexibility and a solution to scheduling issues and long wait times for what are considered common surgeries. Procedures occurring in these facilities cost significantly less when compared to hospitals, which saves the patient, insurance companies, and employers money.
In response to the coronavirus outbreak, three of South Carolina’s ASCs have converted into hospitals, while others have closed because of the restrictions on elective surgeries. These conversions help hospital capacity, assist with backlogs of procedures, and expand resources.
An ASC must meet the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ (CMS) Conditions of Participation when converting to a hospital and, while operating as a hospital, it will temporarily no longer operate as an ASC. DHEC is proud of South Carolina’s ASCs and all they have done in order to comply with federal and state standards and waivers.
The three ASCs that have converted to hospitals during the COVID pandemic are the Surgery Center at Edgewater in Fort Mill, Charleston ENT & Allergy, and Center for Colon & Digestive Diseases in Aiken.
“ASCs provide high quality surgical care that is safe and cost-effective,” said Amanda Atkinson, Administrator of the Surgery Center at Edgewater. “They have a reduced risk of infection and patients have the convenience of receiving care in a smaller and more intimate setting.”
Responding to COVID-19 at present, the facility is required to test all patients prior to their surgical procedure, adding extra steps to their pre-operation process. Additional staff were brought in to assist with the testing, but supply costs have risen for the facility.
Many local hospitals have suspended elective surgeries to focus on providing care to COVID-19 cases, creating a backlog of procedures and patients on standby. By converting to a hospital, the ASC has been able to work on the backlog of surgeries waiting to be performed, improving the patient’s quality of life, and in many cases allowing them to return to work or normal daily activities.
In addition to the extra duties and safety precautions within the facility, staff have also been dedicating time to testing the public.
“Staff who are affiliated with MUSC have been staffing COVID 19 testing sites since the beginning,” Atkinson said. “Many of our staff continue doing so to ensure that we are doing our part to help with this pandemic. They have all been willing to work jobs outside their normal work duties as nurses and surgical technicians to help the greater good. These healthcare professionals have selflessly and courageously continued to provide excellent care to our patients and our community.”
DHEC thanks all of our ASCs for their continued commitment to Promoting Teamwork and Service and Accessibility. Later this month, we will publish a second part in this Dashboard series to highlight our work with another ASC and how our staff is helping to protect patient care during this time.
DHEC Applauds Ambulatory Surgery Centers for Adjusting During Pandemic
DHEC’s Healthcare Quality provides state and federal oversight of surgery centers. Ambulatory surgery centers must be licensed and can also be certified. August is National Ambulatory Surgery Center Month.
Since the coronavirus pandemic began, hospitals have been reaching out to Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs) in search of space, staff, intensive care unit (ICU) beds, operating rooms, overflow care, equipment, and more.
The facility has now performed several procedures it had never performed before, all without complications. Submitted claims have not been reimbursed, reporting requirements have changed, and regulations that did not previously apply are now in place.
Despite these hardships, Mandy Hawkins, Director of the surgery center at Charleston ENT & Allergy, said the benefit outweighed the inconveniences.
“During this crisis we have been able to take on higher acuity cases freeing up valuable hospital space,” she said. “We have been able to proceed with cases that were being postponed within hospital systems preventing the possibility of worsening the prognosis for the patient.”
They also test their physicians and staff daily as well as patients and families both on the day before and of the operating procedure date. Staffing and obtaining personal protective equipment PPE have been a challenge at times, but Hawkins says that the pandemic’s obstacles have improved the teamwork among her staff.
“Our team has grown closer, working together through difficult times,” she said. “I absolutely love being part of my ASC. Working closely with the Governing Board of Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASCA), the Lowcountry Healthcare Coalition, DHEC, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), and a myriad of ASC leaders throughout the state and country, I have built relationships with healthcare providers, public service workers and people I never knew I would need at an ASC.”
DHEC encourages the public to learn about the importance of ASCs, their mission, and their commitment to providing reliable and safe options to South Carolina’s communities. We value the staff, stakeholders, and constituents that continue advocating for these important assets to the great state of South Carolina and its people.
Today (June 19th) is World Sickle Cell Day! 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.
SCD affects millions of people worldwide and is particularly common among people originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Saudi Arabia, India, South America and Central America, and Mediterranean countries, such as Turkey, Greece and Italy.
SCD affects approximately 100,000 Americans and occurs in about 1 out of every 365 African-American births. Individuals living with SCD suffer from both acute and chronic complications that require frequent contact with the medical system. These complications include acute sickle cell pain, fever, and acute chest syndrome (ACS), which is the term used for a number of different findings that includes chest pain, cough, fever, hypoxia and new lung infiltrates.
Here are some quick facts about SCD:
Sickle Cell Disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders. The red blood cells become hard and sticky and look like a C-shaped farm tool called a “sickle” and the cells die early, which causes a constant storage of red blood cells. Healthy red blood cells are round and move through small blood vessels to carry oxygen to all parts of the body.
To get SCD, the trait must be inherited from both parents who already have the SCD trait. People with the trait usually do not have any of the signs of the disease and live a normal life, but they can pass the trait to their children.
SCD is diagnosed with a simple blood test. It is most often found at birth during routine newborn screening tests. Early diagnosis and treatment are important.
There are several treatment options available for individuals living with different complications of SCD, but the only cure for SCD is a bone marrow or stem cell transplant. Transplants are very risky, and can have serious side effects, including death. For the transplant to work, the bone marrow must be a close match (usually a brother or sister).
SCD and COVID-19
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there is significant concern that the overlap of lung disease from COVID-19 with ACS may result in increased complications and amplification of healthcare utilization among individuals with SCD. Patients with SCD often have underlying cardiopulmonary co-morbidities that may predispose them to poor outcomes if they become infected with COVID-19. Source: hematology.org.
Patients and parents should be educated about COVID-19 signs and symptoms and the importance of physical distancing to limit chances of exposure and infection.
Patients and parents should receive counseling to continue to monitor for fever or other signs of infection. Call hospital, doctor, or nurse first for advice on where to go for an evaluation.
Be sure that patients have an ample supply of all prescribed medication at home (including analgesics) to manage both acute and chronic pain.
Patients should adhere closely to the correct use of medications.
DHEC is committed to educating the community and public about the availability of resources and services for individuals and families living with sickle cell disease. DHEC’s Division of Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs (CYSHCN), provides assistance to persons with sickle cell disease by covering services, such as, medical expenses, physician visits, durable medical equipment, medical supplies, and prescription drugs. Assistance is offered to both children and adults who meet eligibility requirements.
Additionally, CYSHCN engages with the four Sickle Community Based Organizations in the state — the James R. Clark Memorial Sickle Cell Foundation, – Louvenia D. Barksdale Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, – Orangeburg Area Sickle Cell Foundation and – COBRA Human Services Agency Sickle Cell Program – to ensure persons living with SCD have access to community resources and support services.
Sunday, May 31st is National #DamSafety Awareness Day. This day serves to encourage responsibility for dam safety, while promoting the benefits dams offer to communities. DHEC’s Dam Safety Program and their dedicated work on tools and initiatives help dam owners and the state’s dam safety program handle significant rainfall and other events that have the potential to impact dams.
DHEC’s Dam Safety Program has undergone a rebirth since October 2015’s historic floods. Through the investments from the State Legislature, the Dam Safety Program has been able to add staff and improve its capabilities, including expanding education and outreach for dam owners. The Dam Safety team includes six Regional Dam Safety Engineers, as well as staff and engineers in the Bureau of Water, to work on permitting, inspections and increase interactions with dam owners.
Working with Dam Owners
Working with dam owners is one of the most important aspects of dam safety. When an issue arises at a dam that could lead to failure, one of the most critical tasks for the owner is to lower the water level. One tool commonly used to lower water levels is a temporary siphon. The size and number of siphons required depends on the size of the reservoir and target water level. DHEC Dam Safety has developed a video to help dam owners through installation.
DHEC Dam Safety has continued (relatively) routine operations while teleworking. Each Thursday morning, program staff from across the state connect together on Teams to discuss the development of webinars, tackling a challenging aspect of a permit review, or prepping for hurricane season.
As Hurricane Season approaches, summer thunderstorms in South Carolina can sit over a drainage basin for an extended period of time and drop 6-8” of rain in a matter of hours. When such an event is forecast or has occurred, dam owners should:
Evaluate the water level in the pond/lake and determine if water levels can be safely lowered to make room for incoming flows.
Coordinate with dam owners and/ or property owners downstream.
Routinely clear debris from spillways.
Review your Emergency Action Plan.
Keep alert. As the storm passes, watch for rising waters.
Report any immediate safety concerns to the DHEC Dam Safety Program’s 24/7 line at 803-898- 1939.
For over 10 years, DHEC’s Dam Safety Program has brought on interns to assist with development of Emergency Action Plans, data management, and mapping. Interns have been hired full-time to start careers with the Dam Safety Program here at DHEC and other have gone to work in the private sector at companies such as Trane and Dominion Energy.
DHEC Dam Safety has partnered with FEMA and Argonne National Laboratory on a series of webinars for dam owners, with a focus on the unique challenges faced by those dams owned by HOAs. Two webinars have been completed and the recordings posted to DHEC’s YouTube page. Additional presentations are scheduled for June 2 and July 7.
DHEC recognizes the American Hospital Association’s annual National Hospital Week by celebrating our hospitals and the professionals that work in them. South Carolina currently has 105 licensed hospitals staffed with nurses, doctors, practitioners and a variety of staff members that provide medical care, services, and compassion to patients.
As hospitals continue to respond to the COVID-19 state of emergency, its skilled staff and factions of healthcare professionals are working diligently to prevent the spread of the virus while simultaneously treating up to the most severe COVID-19 patients.
“This pandemic is unprecedented and beyond what anyone could have imagined,“ said Charlene Bell, Interim Director of the Hospital Division in Healthcare Quality. “The way that hospitals from even the most rural regions of the state have promptly and pre-emptively communicated with local health departments and DHEC since the start of the outbreak in order to make sure that they have sufficient hospital beds, personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies, adequate staff, and infection control measures in place is outstanding.“
DHEC is also working closely with hospitals to contain and screen COVID-19 by creating alternate care sites (ACS), which include the following:
COVID-19 specimen collection sites
Mobile and popup testing clinics
Extension of a hospital’s emergency department (e.g., triage and screening tents)
COVID-19 isolation sites
Limited COVID-19 medical care isolation sites
Low-acuity alternate care sites
“DHEC is working with hospitals in inspecting and opening up construction spaces so select ACS can be approved,” Charlene said. “The ACS are very important because they relieve hospitals from having too many patients in a common area at a time with a mix of COVID-19 positive and negative patients, and now COVID-19 patients can be allocated to the proper areas of the hospital without having to pass through unnecessary channels.Hospitals can separate these individuals and test, screen, and care for them in a far more timely and efficient matter.”
DHEC has currently approved 51 alternate care sites. The agency is also carefully monitoring the intensive care units of all hospitals daily.
“Frontline healthcare workers in South Carolina’s hospitals are the true heroes of COVID-19,” said Thornton Kirby, President and CEO of the South Carolina Hospital Association (SCHA).
The SCHA has is thanking healthcare workers throughout the state by deploying a “Healthcare Heroes Truck” to visit hospitals and share messages of appreciation.
DHEC thanks hospitals and the hundreds of staff at each facility for their sacrifices, skills, and life-saving work. COVID-19 has infiltrated every hospital and healthcare system in the state, and our hospitals continue to prove how incredibly efficient and compassionate they are by prioritizing every patient who enters their doors and positively affecting more lives than we can ever know.
DHEC’s mission to improve the quality of life for all South Carolinians by protecting and promoting the health of the public is evident in our hospitals and the healthcare professionals who dedicate themselves to the most vulnerable in our communities.
The agency’s partnership with SCHA and celebrating National Hospital Week is a way we Promote Teamwork as well as Leadership and Collaboration.