Prisma gains staffing help through collaboration with state agencies, S.C. National Guard

Jan. 13, 2021

HELP FROM THE GUARD – In June, members of the Laurens unit of the South Carolina National Guard assisted Prisma Health at a free testing site. Now four trained medics from the SCNG have been assisting at Prisma Health Laurens County, and four more will be joining the staff when its third floor COVID Convalescent Center opens Monday. Photo by Judith Brown

Clinton, S.C. –   Like other hospitals across the Upstate of South Carolina, Prisma Health Laurens County is feeling the squeeze caused by the high numbers of COVID-19 patients, and four South Carolina National Guard medics have already been assisting at the local hospital.
“Prisma Health is experiencing the effects of extreme tightening capacities since the holidays,” Justin Benfield, CEO Prisma Health – Laurens County Hospital, said on Monday. “We expected this to take place and we are definitely using our scale to try and adjust and meet those needs.”
A collaboration between Prisma Health and
several state level organizations is enabling the local hospital to address needs from this latest surge of the illness.
The four South Carolina National Guard medics are among those helping during the recent staff shortfall, which Benfield said has been caused by extremely high patient numbers and Prisma team members who are out sick.

Now with plans to begin opening a new COVID Convalescent section on the hospital’s third floor, there will be four more National Guard medics dedicated to that area.

“This space is not for critical care admissions but it helps address the tightening capacity – the sheer numbers,” Benfield said. “And our team is definitely expanding here.”
More staff is required for the additional 29 new COVID Convalescent beds which are being prepared on the third floor.

“We have larger volumes of patients and while we are seeking contract labor to come in and assist, we are competing with the entire state and the rest of the country for the same medical contract labor,” Benfield said.

The plans for using the third floor as a COVID Convalescent Floor came about as result of collaborative efforts of DHEC, South Carolina Emergency Management Division and the South Carolina Hospital Association. The three agencies began last spring asking hospital systems to seek out unused and underused locations within their facilities.
Prisma Health converted Prisma Health North Greenville Hospital into a hospital specifically for COVID patients, and Prisma also made the state aware of the unused floor at Laurens. It turned out to be just the type of space which the state was seeking and arrangements were set in to place in case the space was needed.

State officials had been asking hospitals to consider other facility resources and Prisma had even made contact with Piedmont Technical College and Presbyterian College. While they were willing, he he expects that such locations won’t be necessary, Benfield said.

“I can tell you I am very glad we are part of a large health care system right now,” he added.

Because it’s a state-level collaboration, nursing staff will be supplemented by the S.C. Emergency Management Division in addition to the four National Guard medics, and other hospital systems will have access to the COVID step-down beds.

As the first stage of the COVID Convalescent floor, the third floor’s west wing will open on Jan. 18 with 15 beds. Soon after, 14 more beds will open in what had been a skilled nursing unit.
The west wing had not been needed lately, Benfield said, and the skilled nursing unit was closed two years ago. The hospital’s third floor was selected early on as a potential space in case COVID overflow necessitated its use.
“This is actually a state-wide initiative,” Benfield said, “and while we looked at other alternative sites in the county, currently our main focus is to utilize all available spaces within hospitals.”
Now with the third floor beds and space approved by DHEC and ready to open, Benfield said the county hospital will be in a better situation if people remain diligent against the virus.
“This is a collaborative effort with the agencies to try and address these capacity issues and to find ways to expand the capacity in Laurens so we can get our patients in and be cared for as they should be,” Benfield said. “But this disease does not discriminate. It’s absolutely not just the elderly, and we are anticipating continued challenges over the next two to three weeks on the heels of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.”
Benfield said those in the health care field understand even more than most the concept of “pandemic fatigue.” The goal for positivity rate by this time had been set at 5 %, Benfield said, and yet the state is currently running above a 30 % positivity rate.
“We are still talking about gatherings and individuals taking responsibility and we are essentially almost a year into the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime,” Benfield said. “We all have pandemic fatigue but we are still in a very serious situation in country, in the Upstate and Laurens County.”

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