MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) - Clinical personnel with the South Carolina National Guard will provide staffing support for five hospitals along the Grand Strand as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to climb across the area, health officials announced Tuesday.
According to a press release, approximately 40 medics with the S.C. National Guard will arrive in the region Wednesday to provide clinical support at Conway Medical Center, McLeod Loris, McLeod Seacoast, Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital and Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital.
The area’s hospitals worked collaboratively through the South Carolina Hospital Association, Georgetown County Emergency Management and Horry County Emergency Management to request and receive Guard support.
“Over the past month, COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased significantly in Georgetown and Horry counties,” said Thornton Kirby, SCHA president and CEO, in a statement. “Staffing support from the National Guard will allow the region’s hospitals, which are operating at or near capacity, to expand their ability to care for patients in need.”
COVID-19 cases are increasing rapidly in the region, with more than 4,000 new cases diagnosed in Georgetown and Horry counties since July 1, the release stated. All of the region’s hospitals are at or near capacity in their emergency departments, intensive care units and inpatient care units.
Vice President of Communications, Education and Member Services for the South Carolina Hospital Association Schipp Ames said the plan hospitals already had in place included collaborating with DHEC and the S.C. National Guard early in the pandemic, in case hospitals, needed any additional support during the crisis. Ames said the time for that plan to be launched is now.
“As we continue to see a major spike in COVID-19 hospitalizations, it not only puts a major stress on hospital resources, we’re continuing to see issues with staffing,” Ames said. “So those 40 deployed medics into the region to provide care [helps], and it demonstrates the plan we have in place can be set-up for these [care services.]”
McLeod medical staff said they’re grateful to have the National Guard’s support at two of their hospital locations during these tough times.
“I think this will be tremendous for the staff,” said Sherrill Nielson, Chief Nursing Officer at McLeod. “As you know, [the pandemic] has been hard on the staff, they’re working really hard, they’re doing an awesome job taking care of the patients. But I think having the National Guard will show support for them while we’re having some ‘higher than normal’ days.”
This is not the first time National Guard personnel have provided support for the region’s hospitals during an emergency. Guard members have responded both before and after natural disasters in recent years, including flooding and hurricanes, according to the release.
Most recently, Guard members have begun working with Tidelands Health and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to help staff large-scale COVID-19 testing events in the region.
Now the Guard members will be assisting Tidelands Health inside of two of their medical facilities, something Chief Operating Officer Gayle Resetar said is needed during this stage of the COVID crisis because of the rates continuing to go up across the Grand Strand.
“We’re looking forward to taking advantage of their help,” Resetar said. “Obviously, they’re not typically working in a civilian setting. We’ve done a fair amount of preparation, working collaboratively with their physician leadership and our physician leadership. We’ve validated what procedures they’ll be permitted to perform. They’ll be staffing different shifts both day and night.”
All the hospital agencies are advising residents, it’s not just the National Guard members that can help during this COVID crisis, but also the people in the Grand Strand community, by continuing to wear a mask and practice social distancing during this stage of the pandemic.
The next free testing event for Tidelands Health and DHEC will be held Friday at 10 a.m. at Coastal Carolina University, and Guard members will be on hand to assist.