A Year Long History Concerning DHEC’s Issues Found At Next Heading
“County employees and some of their friends and family have been vaccinated in the last month, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control stated that some people were outside of the designated Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan,” DHEC spokesperson Laura Renwick wrote in an email to The Sun News.
Yesterday, the Sun News reported: The Sun News confirmed last week that the county later amended its rollout policy to allow friends and relatives of county employees and officials to receive the vaccine, too. Ben Lawson, the head of the county’s emergency medical services division, wrote in a Feb. 15 email that the county had consulted with two DHEC officials before implementing its distribution plan.
By late evening’s end, Horry County officials responded.
In its efforts to maintain a positive working relationship with SCDHEC as initial vaccination efforts have been ramping up across the state, Horry County Government chose to provide only a limited response to recent reporting concerning Horry County Government’s administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. However, following weeks of working with SCDHEC to reach an appropriate and amicable joint response, including a call that we requested with their team yesterday, the misinformation being conveyed to the public by media and others has only increased, and thus Horry County feels it is imperative to provide this information directly to our community.
SCDHEC has never denied that they provided guidance to Horry County and approved the County’s vaccination plan, yet the media coverage has insinuated that the County somehow acted inappropriately by providing vaccinations outside of SCDHEC’s priority guidelines. The simple fact is that Horry County has at all times complied with SCDHEC’s guidance, and if SCDHEC was better able to satisfy its current supply challenges, we would not be having this discussion.
Horry County was not the first organization to have a similar program approved by SCDHEC, and other local providers, including medical facilities and municipalities have similarly undertaken action to provide this critical protection to their employees and others. For example, many local hospitals partnered with government organizations to provide vaccines to active members of law enforcement with the approval of SCDHEC—guidance that is now being interpreted by SCDHEC to remove law enforcement members completely from the 1A guidelines. This means these other organizations would also be non-compliant. The 1A guidance on SCDHEC’s website appears to contradict what is included in their latest email to us—this just adds to the continued confusion for all of us.
Those other organizations have not received the same level of scrutiny from SCDHEC or from local media reporting. It is time for SCDHEC to acknowledge the mismanagement and miscommunication early in the distribution process that led to these issues. SCDHEC, including those “senior officials” on our recent call, have known about this for weeks, yet did not stop providing us with doses of vaccines or ask us to change course. We were provided with an initial 3,500 doses, despite not having requested any doses at that point, and those were more than we would need to vaccinate those in the now narrowly construed 1A category—and SCDHEC knew.
We have enough second doses for everyone who received a first dose from us and we will be administering those. We will administer the remaining supply, with new guidance from SCDHEC, to members of our community using the same VAMS software we were already utilizing. Assuming SCDHEC does not change their guidance to us again, we expect to release information to the public about how they can schedule an appointment with us in the near future.
Horry County will adapt to the latest guidance and will continue to forge ahead, together with SCDHEC, to get our community vaccinated, but we will not apologize for doing the right thing for our employees, with the approval of SCDHEC, at a time of crisis for our entire community.
Our community matters to us. Our senior citizens matter to us. Our teachers matter to us. We stand by, ready to assist, with an efficient system for distributing vaccines to our community and we will continue to work together with SCDHEC to achieve our shared ultimate goal of vaccinating everyone in Horry County that wants a COVID-19 vaccine.
SCDHEC AND ALL THINGS COVID
SCDHEC operates on a $300 million annual budget. The agency has more than 3,800 employees working in 100 locations across the state. The agency has authority over practically all things health and all things environment in the state.
THEY WERE WARNED IN 2012
Last March 18th, the Atlantic wrote:
Health agencies were warned in 2012, when the Rand Corporation surveyed the international threats arrayed against the United States and concluded that only pandemics posed an existential danger, in that they were “capable of destroying America’s way of life.”
Those agencies were warned again in 2015, when Ezra Klein of Vox, after speaking with Bill Gates about his algorithmic model for how a new strain of flu could spread rapidly in today’s globalized world, wrote that “a pandemic disease is the most predictable catastrophe in the history of the human race, if only because it has happened to the human race so many, many times before.”
SCDHEC WAS CAUGHT FLAT FOOTED DESPITE A $300 Million Annual Budget
As readers can remember, in March 2020 SCDHEC had no testing equipment for the disease. Because SCDHEC was unprepared, all 5 million residents in the state of S.C. were told to stay home.
Under this agency’s guidance, S.C. Governor McMaster then practically shut down all small businesses in the state. Even though big box stores including Walmart, Costco, Lowes Home Improvement, Home Depot and the like were allowed to stay open, small business owners were decimated. This all under the direction of SCDHEC.
Summer 2020, SCDHEC told residents that testing supplies were limited. Residents were told they could only be tested if they had symptoms.
In the midst of the pandemic, on May 27th, DHEC Director Rick Toomey announced during a press conference that he was resigning and his last day would be June 10. He has yet to be permanently replaced.
On September 10th, the director of public health at SCDHEC left the state for a new job in Ohio. She has yet to be replaced.
SCDHEC has been operating for months, during a pandemic, without a Board Director and a Director of Public Health.
Yet DHEC controls all things health, environment, schools, government and now commerce in S.C.
LEGISLATORS WANT CHANGE
As a result of the 2020 ongoing missteps, a new bill, sponsored by Representative Richie Yow and North Myrtle Beach Representative William Bailey, will work break up the bureaucracy in order to hold SCDHEC more accountable.
The intentions of the bill are to:
- Divide SCDHEC into 2 different and separate entities
- A Health Agency
- An Environmental Agency
- Eliminate the SCDHEC BOARD. Current accountability is weak. The Board Director for the 7th District happens to be Myrtle Beach Hotel Manager Jim Creel Jr. Mr. Creel is an exceptional person, but his expertise in the areas of Health and Environmental Control can certainly be questioned. Issues around the expertise of many of the board members have been raised ongoing.
- Make each entity a stand alone agency accountable to the Governor (or perhaps the General Assembly).
Said Representative William Bailey, “We need to plan in advance for the future now. We better be preparing for the next virus, because history shows there is always a next virus coming. It is simply a matter of when.”
Most S.C. residents believe SCDHEC was clearly unprepared for Covid 19, despite a $300 million annual budget.
The bill to break up DHEC is currently headed for the Judiciary, where Bailey serves.