WMBF Investigates: Multiple South Carolina counties lack general hospital beds

Updated: Apr. 7, 2020 at 7:12 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WMBF) - Around half of South Carolina’s hospital beds are occupied as COVID-19 cases continue to increase daily, according to state health officials.

WMBF Investigates analyzed how certain areas would handle an increase in patients requiring hospitalization and found some major gaps in hospital bed availability.

In its daily press releases, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control reported the state’s available and utilized beds but the total number of beds changes daily. The health department would not elaborate or specify what beds it included in this total so WMBF analyzed the department’s data on general hospitals licensed across the state.

Eight counties within South Carolina lack a general hospital and therefore have zero hospital beds available, according to SCDHEC numbers on general hospitals.

Bamberg, Barnwell, Lee, Fairfield, Marlboro, McCormick, Saluda and Calhoun counties have no listed general hospitals.

Calhoun is serviced by the Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties, but according to state records, the hospital is not located within Calhoun County.

Another 15 counties, around 33% of the state, reportedly have fewer than 100 general hospital beds.

Charleston ranks top in the state with 1,587 general beds followed by Richland (1,274), Greenville (1,262) and Florence (875).

The state has an average of around 245 beds per county.

Between its four general hospitals, Horry County reportedly has nearly 700 beds.

Florence ranks top in the state for beds per person.

Georgetown, Marion and Dillon counties also rank high.

On Monday, state officials announced 3,000 more hospital beds would be added at expanded facilities across the state by May.

During the Monday press conference, officials mentioned the state was considering closed hospitals in Fairfield and Marlboro counties, both areas that no longer have any general hospital.

Schipp Ames, the vice president of communications at the S.C. Hospital Association said the idea behind the additional facilities is to add access points for healthcare to patients.

“I think that’s why you’ve seen such an expansive view on alternate care sites and what we are going to have to consider,” Ames said. “Alternate care sites would be alternate sites where we could provide care. They’ve looked at everything from coliseums to hotels to closed hospitals to be repurposed.”

Twenty-seven percent of COVID-19 patients were hospitalized at the time of their illness, according to SCDHEC figure.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a global health research center, predicted COVID-19 cases will peak in South Carolina on April 24. IHME’s projections predict the state will need 642 beds when the cases peak, a number much lower than SCDHEC reports is already available.

Ames said hospitals are constantly updating their bed capacity in an online system the state uses during hurricanes.

“Generally, when we use this system around hurricanes it is because we are going to be transferring patients due to some type of natural disaster or storm or a moving event. This requires much more complex planning when you’re trying to plan around a pandemic,” Ames said.

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