‘Quite a rollercoaster’: Local hospitals deal with quickly vaccinating Phase 1-A on top of rising COVID-19 cases

Updated: Jan. 8, 2021 at 7:27 PM EST
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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WMBF) – Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases and a quickly approaching vaccination deadline has provided a double whammy for Grand Strand and Pee Dee hospitals.

But hospitals say they are motivated to get vaccines out to frontline workers in our community.

FORGING AHEAD | WMBF investigates South Carolina’s vaccine distribution process

Gov. Henry McMaster set a Jan. 15 deadline for those in Phase 1-A to get their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or at least make an appointment by that date.

This comes after the Department of Health and Environmental Control had only given official guidance to providers to start vaccinating workers outside of their own hospital on Jan. 1.

RELATED COVERAGE | ‘Nobody has talked to us’: Frustrations rise as some in Phase 1-A still wait for vaccine information

“Things have been quite a rollercoaster. And yes, it’s been quite challenging; many challenges that we are working to overcome but we are steadily getting down that road of increasing vaccines across the state,” said Melanie Matney, the chief operating officer of the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Grand Strand and Pee Dee hospitals are confronting those challenges as they work to schedule appointments to those eligible for the vaccine.

“We have the worst numbers along the Grand Strand that we’ve had the entire time of COVID. So there could not be a worse time; there could not be a greater shortage of manpower,” said Gayle Resetar, chief operation officer for Tidelands Health.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE | ‘We’re seeing a lot of sick people’: COVID-19 hospitalizations double, triple at Grand Strand hospitals

To help with the challenge, Tidelands Health is working to bring on temporary staff with previous healthcare experience.

“We are doing everything we can do to enhance the number of people we have we can assign to the vaccination effort,” Resetar said.

RELATED COVERAGE | Tidelands Health hiring additional staff for COVID-19 vaccine efforts

DHEC estimates 350,000 people are included in Phase 1-A: frontline health care workers and nursing home residents and staff.

Currently, there is no kind of list on hand of frontline providers that hospitals need to reach out to in their coverage area.

“DHEC’s instruction to us, and this is the same for hospitals all across the state, is try to find them. Reach out to them,” Resetar explained. “So far, plenty of people are reaching out to us, we’ve reached out to plenty of people. I sure don’t want people to fall through the cracks either, but I think we’re off to a good start.”

LIST | COVID-19 vaccine distribution phases, who receives vaccine in each phase

Phase 1-A frontline healthcare workers are now encouraged to reach out to hospitals to make these appointments before they lose their priority status. But hospitals say they are asking this be done by employers, not individual staff.

“I think the message should be they should go first with their employer - ensure that their employer is enrolled with somebody in the market,” Resetar said. “Everybody is doing the same thing. All four hospitals in our region are trying very, very hard to accommodate this expectation.”

This sentiment is shared by Conway Medical Center, who told WMBF Investigates in an email, “We are asking employers to coordinate with their eligible employees before sending an email. We are able to be more responsive if we receive one email for the group, as opposed to multiple individual emails from employees.”

CMC continued on to say, “This is an unprecedented effort for all of us. We ask for patience from the public as we work through distributing these vaccines.”

Some hospitals are setting up centralized email addresses or phone lines, while others have employer enrollment pages on their website.

A list of contact information for each hospital in South Carolina administering vaccine doses to frontline healthcare workers has been provided by SCHA.

Matney said SCHA and DHEC are working to increase the number of sites that are enrolled as vaccine providers during Phase 1-A and beyond.

“So other pharmacies, other physician practices - the more we can try to increase the number of sites and the availability and access to the vaccine, really, the more successful we will be as a state of getting people vaccinated,” she said.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s interim director of public health, said Friday afternoon that some doctors offices, urgent care sites and DHEC sites will be receiving vaccines on Monday.

“We are working with our partners at the CDC to allocate vaccines to retail pharmacies to be able to provide vaccines in their local stores here in South Carolina,” Traxler said. “And anticipate those vaccines being in the state and available initially in some of, and then eventually hopefully all of those pharmacies ... in a week and a half from now.”

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