Starting Thursday, people age 70 and older in Self Regional Medical Center’s seven-county service area can start signing up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Self CEO and President Jim Pfeiffer said the hospital is excited to meet Gov. Henry McMaster’s challenge to add people 70 years old and older to the 1a phase of the vaccine rollout. To meet this demand with a limited supply, however, he said the hospital will set up a once-weekly phone line for people to call and make appointments for the following week.
From 9 a.m. to noon on Thursdays, people identified in phase 1a of vaccine distribution may call 864-725-3555 to set up an appointment to receive the vaccine. The phone line will be first-come, first-serve, and doses will be limited by the hospital’s current supply of only 1,500 doses per week, Pfeiffer said.
There will be a limit of two vaccines per caller, so someone can call to set up an appointment for themselves and a spouse. The appointments will be restricted to people 70 and older who live in Greenwood, Laurens, Saluda, Abbeville, Edgefield, McCormick or Newberry counties, along with health care workers and health-related first responders identified in phase 1a.
For information on the planned phases of vaccine distribution, visit scdhec.gov/covid19/covid-19-vaccine.
“We receive a limited allotment of vaccine doses from S.C. DHEC regularly — approximately 1,500 per week — and are committed to distributing those doses as equitably, efficiently, and rapidly as possible,” Pfeiffer said. “What we don’t want to have happen, people just can’t walk in and say I want to get vaccinated.”
There will be about 30 people staffed to answer the appointment phone line, and Self will make appointments until the weekly allotment is accounted for. Dr. Matt Logan, Self’s chief medical officer, said he recognizes this isn’t an ideal situation for administering the vaccine, but the hospital’s biggest bottleneck is its supply of doses from the state.
State officials send out about 60,000 doses to vaccine providers across the state weekly, and Logan said Self gets about 1,500 of those.
“As soon as we get more vaccines, we will have plans in place to administer them much quicker,” Logan said. “We could easily do 2,000 or more doses a day if we had that vaccine supply to give to the community.”
He said Self has been in talks with officials at Piedmont Technical College, which has agreed to help administer the vaccine when supply is large enough to administer it at multiple locations.
So far, Pfeiffer said about 50% of health care workers identified in phase 1a in the area have received the vaccine, though within Self’s medical staff that percentage rises to 75%.
Even as the hospital tries to get the vaccine out as quickly and efficiently as possible, Pfeiffer said their concern is also to ensure no doses go to waste or sit on shelves. In addition, he said as the vaccine is distributed, people still need to be on guard against the virus’ spread.
“We’re not out of the danger zone,” he said. “We still need to be wearing masks, practicing hand hygiene and practicing social distancing.”
Testing and hospitalizationsSelf’s testing line has remained inundated with people seeking COVID-19 tests, and Logan said hospital staff is still looking for ways to expand testing capacity. The challenge, he said, is staffing.
“We have such a high COVID inpatient census right now, we’re trying not to pull nurses and our other staff away from the bedside,” he said.
The testing line operates from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Mondays and Thursdays at 303 W. Alexander Ave., Greenwood. Logan said staff is looking at ways to expand testing until 5 p.m., but nothing has been finalized.
Within the hospital, Pfeiffer said as of Tuesday morning there were 70 patients being treated for COVID-19, with 12 people under investigation for the illness. This is among the highest inpatient COVID numbers the hospital has seen during the pandemic, and Pfeiffer said other hospitals in the area are experiencing similar or worse situations.
Logan said the medical teams are doing all they can to reduce the number of admissions. They’re expanding the use of bamlanivimab — a treatment that mimics the immune system’s ability to fight off COVID and blocks the virus’ attachment and entry into cells. The hospital will be administering bamlanivimab on Saturdays now to try and reduce the rate of patients at high risk of serious illness being admitted for treatment.