Hospital head urges masks to fight COVID surge

The head of Prisma Health Laurens County Hospital asked members of the county’s Development Corporation Board to help encourage workers and residents in the county to wear masks and practice social-distancing measures as COVID-19 cases across the state continue to rise.

“We’re in the middle of a surge,” said Laurens County Hospital Administrator Justin Benfield. “We expected an increase in cases after Memorial Day, but no one was prepared for this.”

Benfield called into Monday’s LCDC Board meeting, which was held at the Piedmont Technical College Center for Advanced Manufacturing to allow for social distancing among board members and staff.

Confirmed cases among those tested now hover around 20% daily, putting stress on the hospital staff her and throughout the state’s hospital systems.

“This is real,” Benfield said. “Everything appears calm on the outside, but it’s like a war zone inside the hospital.”

In addition to more cases of COVID-19 in the general community, the hospital has also been taxed due to an outbreak at Whitten Center, which has caused more than 150 combined staff members and residents to fall ill and three deaths.

Benfield called the outbreak at a facility such as Whitten Center or another extended-care facility a “nightmare” scenario for the hospital.

Hospital systems, including Prisma, were also facing a nursing shortage when the pandemic began to take hold in the U.S., and that has been exacerbated since the rise in COVID-19 cases and as other patients seek care.

“Some patients put off coming into the hospital when (the pandemic) began and now they need more acute care,” Benfield said.

Wearing masks and social distancing have proven effective in slowing the spread of the virus, and Benfield said doing those things is not a political statement.

“We’ve got to slow the spread of this virus,” he said. “It is extremely infectious.”

In other items at Tuesday’s board meeting:

The LCDC received a clean audit report from the McKinley, Cooper & Co. accounting firm.

“It’s the best opinion you can obtain with an audit,” said accountant Matt Phillips of McKinley, Cooper & Co.

LCDC President & CEO Jonathan Coleman announced that an overall strategic plan for the county initiated by the LCDC is now on hold due to COVID-19.

“We live in a different world than we did when we started the strategic plan,” Coleman said, noting that the LCDC would begin to implement parts of the plan that apply to it and look to unveil the comprehensive plan in 2021.

 

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