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AAMC's health care workers don't feel appreciated

Abbeville Area Medical Center (AAMC)

Abbeville Area Medical Center was the subject of a rumor mentioned in a county council meeting. The hospital's CEO said the hospital is not merging with another entity or being sold.

ABBEVILLE — Tired of COVID-19? So are health care workers.

Reaction to the pandemic was the focus of Monday’s meeting of the Abbeville Area Medical Center’s board of trustees. The meeting itself was moved to WCTEL’s building because the usual meeting place at the medical center is being used for COVID-19-related care.

The center saw up to 204 patient days in September related to COVID-19, CEO Cindy Buck said. The center has used all its ventilators and had to get four ventilators on loan from the national stockpile to meet needs.

When COVID-19 first arose, health care workers enjoyed a huge rush of appreciation, she said. That diminished and now among health care workers, there is disappointment that maybe they’re not as appreciated as they once were.

Efforts to show appreciation included a local business that provided lunch to center staff and administration staff providing fruit to staff and even helping out on the floor, Buck said.

Chairman Gene Pruitt suggested having an appreciation meal on behalf of center staff.

“One of the things to realize is it’s not the surge,” Dr. Chris Oxendine said. “It’s the ‘Why are we in a surge state?’ that is most disheartening to providers. From March 2020 through getting enough vaccine, to have COVID-19 surge back up, that’s disheartening. Patients are not cutting us any slack at the health care center.”

In his office, he said the staff deals with vaccines, respiratory clinics along with a normal workload. People have been fatigued from the pandemic and are casually forgetting that it exists.

Pandemic-related stress hit home for trustee Mike Johnson who related a story of a relative who experienced two horse-riding accidents in one weekend. She was experiencing short-term memory problems and was taken to Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia. The family had to wait six hours before medical staff could see the rider because of a backlog.

Fortunately, the memory problems were temporary, he said.

One official related a story of medical staffer who told a client they had to wait because the center was busy. The client said, “I know, but I don’t care.”

AAMC is not the only medical center dealing with COVID-19 issues, said representatives with QHR, a hospital management and consulting firm. With COVID-19, everybody is in desperation mode, Dwayne Gunter said. Everybody is stealing nurses. In some cases, companies are writing bonus checks to attract nurses.

QHR stated a nursing advisory team to develop nursing retention and recovery efforts. Gunter said QHR even brought in six nurses from The Philippines to staff a hospital. The company still has to deal with visa issues.

One member of the board said she had heard of a nurse working in Florida who is making up to $10,000 a month dealing with COVID-19 care.

Buck admitted retention is a concern. AAMC is always seeking nurses, along with other staff for other departments. She said some centers in Greenville are offering signing bonuses to recruit staff. AAMC offers incentives for working extra shifts. Not much response has come from traveling nurses.

AAMC has relaxed vaccine requirements for new hires, she said. They all will be subject to weekly testing. Up to 75% of the AAMC staff is vaccinated. Some got the vaccine because they didn’t want to be tested anymore. In some cases, testing involves spitting into a test tube.

While hospitals face shortages of equipment, people are an equal concern, according to QHR’s Chip Gunter. Often patients are stressed. Some hospitals can’t discharge patients and because of that, they can’t admit new patients. They also deal with people claiming physical and religious exemptions to the vaccine.

It’s as much now about people as technology, he said. Caregivers also become stressed because they might miss family events.

A board member at one hospital, a former general, likened staffing issues to “a war for talent.”

Appreciation isn’t just financial; it’s about the culture of family. Gunter said the board member talked of preemptive appreciation and compensation.

‘”If you show people you care, it’s like a vaccine,” Gunter said. “You’re getting ahead of the stress.”

“Our staff are tired. They’re wearying. Any encouragement you can provide will be very much appreciated,” she said.

One of the few positive aspects of COVID-19 care is AAMC’s work in the community, specifically with health assessments, according to Amanda Morgan, who presented a report on outreach efforts.

A mobile team for COVID-19 care has visited businesses such as Fuji and Eaton, Oxendine said. Now they call AAMC for vaccines and the flu vaccine. The center also has made inroads on occupational medicine work.

‘It’s really been a big boon for us in terms of brand,” he said.

Some companies send employees to AAMC’s drive-thru sites, Morgan said. The goal is to keep people working.

Overall, Buck said, she wishes people would see the value of getting vaccinated. While it might not prevent COVID-19 in all cases, it will make the illness less severe.

Contact staff writer Robert Jordan at 864-943-5650.

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