SOCASTEE, S.C. (WPDE) — Gov. Henry McMaster continued his state-wide push to speed up the pace of vaccinations Tuesday, calling out hospitals for not prioritizing COVID-19 vaccinations and ordering their full allocation each week.
"Every dose that comes into that hospital needs to be in somebody's arm before that next shipment comes in. Otherwise, they're not doing their job," the governor said as hospital officials looked on.
McMaster's visit to Conway Medical Center was meant to highlight a program that the government believes is working. The facility, which has 2,000 appointments scheduled this week alone, has used more than 75% of its allocated doses. Hospital officials said the waiting list is more than 10,000 names long.
The governor briefly toured the facility's makeshift vaccination hub, where patients are quickly whisked into chairs upon arriving to receive their shot. Most of their time in the room is spent waiting out the 15-minute observation period.
He held a lengthy meeting with hospital administrators and area politicians. Sources inside the room called it a productive discussion, and McMaster spent equal time talking and listening to administrators' updates.
When he emerged, though, he wasted no time in putting the healthcare industry on notice, from the local providers to the CDC's vaccine tracking system, which he said added to the confusion during the rollout.
"We have to move as quickly as we can with the assets that we have in place," he said. "We're building more assets, but we've got to move quickly with those we have. There's no excuse not to."
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During his briefing, a question from a reporter led to McMaster calling out one provider by name: Tidelands Health. While the system has been one of the most aggressive in the state at testing and vaccinating area residents, DHEC data shows that only 37% of its doses have been used.
In an email later Tuesday afternoon, Tidelands officials responded to McMaster's assertation.
"The vaccine inventory we have on hand today has all been allocated and is being rapidly administered in our community," Senior Communications Strategist Dawn Bryant said, adding that hospital staff were splitting their time between thousands of vaccination appointments and facilities that were overcapacity.
Officials at other facilities also chimed in throughout the day. In their biweekly update, MUSC staff members said they keep one days' worth of doses on hand just in case the next shipment arrives late. The provider had been scheduling appointments as far out as April.
Grand Strand Health and McLeod representatives both said they'd be out of doses by the end of the week. Both are still only vaccinating health care workers and first responders.
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"In an effort to address the large group of people in our region age 70 and older who the state declared eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations, McLeod Health is earmarking a portion of the vaccine we receive each week specifically for that age group," McLeod spokeswoman Kelly Hughes said. "Appointments to receive the vaccine will be offered at regional locations throughout the McLeod service area in the coming weeks."
Hughes noted that the hospital's utilization rate was greater than 100%.
Conway Medical Center staff, who watched as the Governor made his remarks, said the initial hiccups that inevitably arise when venturing into something new had been taken care of, and it was a matter of supplies to feed the sky-high demand.
"Now that we have clear direction from DHEC and the state about what we're able to do, we'll take that guidance and do exactly what the governor asked us to do," CMC CEO Bret Barr said. "We've learned what areas that needed improvement, and our staff has been wonderful at innovating through what was presented to us. We feel like we have a very good process in place."