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NEWS | April 8, 2020

SC National Guard helps search for alternate care sites

By Capt. Jessica Donnelly South Carolina National Guard

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The South Carolina National Guard (SCNG) is helping the state increase available hospital beds to accommodate a potential surge in COVID-19 patients.

U.S. Army Maj. Gen. R. Van McCarty, adjutant general for South Carolina, said the SCNG has been working with state and federal agencies as a task force to determine the impact the virus could have on the state’s health care system and developing a plan to respond to the potential needs.

The plan would significantly increase available hospital beds throughout the state. It is an adjustable plan that can be scaled based on the projected and actual needs of health care facilities in South Carolina.

“As of today (April 6), we have 5,944 hospital beds available in South Carolina,” said McCarty. “What our plan allows us to do is to add an additional 3,000 beds, to bring us to approximately 9,000 beds, no later than May 5th.”

An additional 1,500 beds would be available by April 28, with the other 1,500 beds in place by May 5, if needed.

The state task force is using engineers from the Department of Transportation, the South Carolina National Guard and the South Carolina State Guard to vet potential alternate care locations throughout the state against criteria from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Facilities evaluated as potential sites include commercial and state property, such as former medical facilities, arenas and gymnasiums, dormitories and hotels; and tents, which can be transformed into locations where health care workers can care for non-critical patients without taking away from space inside hospitals.

Dr. Eric Ossmann, vice chair of operations and clinical affairs in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Prisma Health, said patients will be classified for three levels of care. Tier 3 patients, the most critical, would receive care in a hospital. Tier 2, non-critical patients who still require care would be assigned to an alternate care facility. Tier 1 patients could conduct self-care but require a place to isolate themselves to avoid exposing others to the coronavirus.

“Over the last three weeks, we’ve been working with the South Carolina National Guard, with the Emergency Management Division, with the South Carolina Hospital Association and all our other clinical partners throughout the state to come up with a workable system that is going to give us the bed capacity that we could potentially need,” said Ossmann.

“All the facilities across the state have been actively working to enhance their ability to expand within their current footprint,” said McCarty. “We have this plan in place if the need develops. It’s a plan built around the current hospital system we have in the state.”