From the Wednesday, Sept. 1 issue of The Laurens County Advertiser, Page 1
Laurens County, S.C. – The newest surge of COVID cases paired with a staff shortage is taking a heavy toll on healthcare workers at Prisma Health Laurens County Hospital.
Late last week Prisma Health announced that the entrance way to the hospital would again become a testing site each weekday morning.
It is open from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday for those with any physician’s COVID test request and, as a result of that, hospital visitation hours have been shortened to begin at 1 p.m. each day.
While Laurens County Hospital staff members are struggling to care for all its patients, CEO Justin Benfield said the current influx of COVID patients is creating flashbacks to the high numbers of COVID patients in the hospital last December, and again it’s causing delays in care for other serious illnesses.
“We had our largest surge during the winter and we are quickly approaching those numbers again,” Benfield said. “The hospital is at 100% utilization of all staffed beds and we have had periods over the last three weeks where we were at 125% of capacity.”
Laurens is higher than other Prisma hospitals in one other average, which points to the oft-reported need for the vaccine.
“Prisma Health as a whole has 92 percent of its COVID population unvaccinated, but at Laurens County Hospital, 100 percent of our COVID patients are unvaccinated,” Benfield said on Tuesday morning. “That doesn’t mean that vaccinated people are not getting COVID but it’s a significantly lower incidence rate, and their level of severity and complication rate is significantly lower.”
Physicians have been alarmed at the number of younger adults and teens who have been getting very ill.
“Statewide, the highest incident rate group are from 11 to 19 years of age, and Pfizer vaccine is for 12 years old and up,” Benfield said. “It has FDA approval and no longer is for emergency use. I realize there are a lot of concerns around that but when you truly weigh the risk versus the reward, the reward is greater.
Benfield has had personal experience with friends who are now experiencing anti-vaccination remorse as they have seen loved ones pass away.
“The vaccine may not 100 percent prevent the virus, but it lessens the impact and incidence,” Benfield said.
Prisma does not require staff to get the vaccine, but a release went out Tuesday that Presbyterian Communities of South Carolina is requiring staff to have the vaccine in light of the danger to residents, the nursing shortage and federal mandates from Medicaid and Medicare.
“We entered this pandemic in the midst of a national nursing shortage and we have had clinicians leave the profession because of COVID,” Benfield said. “We had nurses take contract jobs and go elsewhere to work and we are struggling to fill vacant positions.”
During the height of the surge in the Upstate late last year, qualified National Guard medics assisted in the hospitals. Due to the current staff shortage, the hospital is not always able to open every available bed for patients, thus his reference to 100 percent capacity of “staffed beds.”
“This is a time we need to be pulling together and not dividing,” Benfield said. “We need to look at ways to help our neighbors, help the health care workers who are working exhausted, and be a part of helping out the entire community.