COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Wednesday the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced the state was using more than 75 percent of its hospital beds.
Across the state, 7,991 hospital beds are occupied. COVID-19 patients account for 1,404 of those occupied beds.
State leaders and hospital groups are watching the numbers carefully as they consider ways to increase capacity while maintaining proper patient care.
President and CEO of Lexington Medical Center, Tod Augsburger, told West Columbia Council this week they've seen a major increase of COVID-19 diagnoses in recent weeks at the hospital.
“Since we started, we have diagnosed 1,500 of those 2,500 cases, 615 in the last two weeks. Roughly 40 percent of our cases have come in the last two weeks,” Augsburger said about Lexington County’s COVID cases.
Augsburger continued, saying Lexington Medical Center is currently treating 64 COVID-19 patients.
The hospital's capacity is 508 beds with the ability to add 100 more, depending on staffing.
But Augsburger warned Council they can't all be used for COVID.
“I am concerned about our ability to not only care for COVID patients, but what people also need to recognize is, other illnesses have not taken a vacation during the COVID pandemic. We still are diagnosing the same number of cancers, of heart attacks, of strokes, people still need back surgery, they still need knee surgery, they still have emergencies, they still get in car accidents. So we're trying to provide care to all the people we would have before, and we are seeing as much other illness as we have before, in fact a little more, as people delayed care during the month of April,” Augsburger said.
Beds are actually not the main challenge facing Lexington.
“I think we have the physical capacity to manage many more patients. Our challenge here is going to be staffing. Other hospitals have physical capacity challenges, they don't have enough beds. I think we'll have enough beds for quite some time. Our challenge is going to be nurses, lab techs, respiratory therapists,” Augsburger told the Council.
Lexington County is currently at 85 percent capacity on hospital beds. Lexington Medical Center is at 85 percent across its hospital, 80 percent in its ICU, according to Augsburger.
In Richland County, 78 percent of its hospital beds are occupied, according to the latest available DHEC data.
In late June, South Carolina National Guard Adjutant General Van McCarty said the state is ready to implement a hospital surge plan if capacity goes above 80 percent. However, there are steps they can take before reaching implementation.
“There are mechanisms, internally, that the hospitals can and would do to reduce the amount of current usage. And that would be by maybe, reducing elective surgeries. So, we will look at those types of mechanisms first to see how we can manage the hospital utilization need. Our priority and our preference would be to keep patients in a traditional hospital,” McCarty said during the press conference.
As of Wednesday, a SCNG spokeswoman said the plan had not changed.
At the same late June press conference, Governor Henry McMaster said he would suspend elective surgeries again if needed.
On Wednesday, his office reiterated his willingness to make the same move, if necessary.