I-TEAM: SC's DHEC ready for COVID-19 results as nursing home tests return

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Monday, May 18, 2020
News 12 at 6 O'Clock

(Source: WRDW)

AIKEN, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- We should know soon if COVID-19 is even more prevalent in South Carolina nursing homes than first thought.

MORE | Coronavirus coverage on WRDW.com

DHEC says they expect results soon after nearly 75 homes were tested last week as part of phase one in statewide testing.

Meanwhile, five local facilities with known positive cases include John Edward Harter Nursing Center, Laurens Street ICF, Anchor Health and Rehab, Carlyle Senior Care, and Ridge Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center.

Statewide, more than 100 nursing homes have cases.

The results will help facilities identify and respond to asymptomatic carriers, but we uncovered another problem. Many facilities don’t have enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, to handle more cases. Some don't have PPE at all, so we went looking for answers on where the shipments are.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control’s latest report shows nearly 1,500 patients and workers in more than a hundred of South Carolina's long-term care facilities are positive with the virus. Randy Lee with the South Carolina Health Care Association expects the numbers to jump even higher any day now.

“Numbers are going to go up and we will have positive cases and the amount of PPE will need and use will increase exponentially,” Lee said.

SCHCA is a non-profit that represents most of the state’s long-term health care facilities. Lee says based on their first-hand experience, many facilities are not equipped to follow CDC guidelines concerning COVID-19 outbreaks.

“We have a severe shortage of PPE in nursing homes,” Lee said. ”We are searching everywhere every day for PPE. The biggest problem we got is there is no gowns available anywhere in the world.”

PPE includes gowns, gloves, face shields, and N-95 masks. CDC guidelines require staff caring directly for COVID-19 patients to wear PPE.
We previously reported on shortages of PPE throughout area nursing homes. Lee says FEMA is trying to rush an order, but the delivery date is currently in July.

“We have been told the FEMA shipment is coming quicker than we thought to South Carolina and DHEC told us they would call our emergency planning divisions in the county and let them know we are doing this testing and our priority needs to go up,” Lee said.

DHEC tested patients and staff in 75 long term health care facilities last week. The department plans to complete testing in all of the state’s 200 facilities by the end of the month.

“I know some of my facilities have contracted with local seamstresses and they’re making them gowns,” Lee said.

Lee says nursing home administrators are doing all they can to prepare positive results.

“We have to improvise,” Lee said. “When you don’t have something, you make something. We’ll make do.”

“Unfortunately, the coronavirus did not come with an owner’s manual so none of us know what to do.”

Lee says he also doesn’t know what to do if more staff test positive too. Many facilities are already experiencing staffing shortages.

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