Beaufort Memorial Hospital won’t say how many patients it’s treating for COVID-19
By Mindy Lucas
Despite the fact that several major health systems in South Carolina have released the numbers of patients they are treating for COVID-19, Beaufort Memorial Hospital in Beaufort has refused to release its numbers.
For weeks, health officials across the nation have said to expect a surge in cases around mid-April, while here in South Carolina, officials with the Department of Health and Environment Control (DHEC) said the number of cases could peak in early May.
However, when asked for the number of patients it is currently treating for COVID-19, Beaufort Memorial, a public hospital, emailed the following statement:
“As a general rule we are not sharing details about patient case numbers, ICU bed occupancy, vent usage, etc., for the very reason that these numbers do and will continue to fluctuate,” the email read. “We also feel that without a great deal of context and commentary, this level of detail will only serve to raise more questions and speculation than answers.”
The statement, attributed to the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Kurt Gambla, was emailed to The Island News, on Friday, April 10, after a reporter requested patient numbers for a second time in recent weeks.
The hospital had seen an increase in cases in the first part of March, Dr. Gambla said, but had “remained pretty consistent since” with a “slight increase” in the number of critical care and progressive care units.
He attributed the reason for the increase to the increased availability of testing and turnaround times at laboratories.
“So where there may have been a backlog a week or two ago, we’re now getting results from the state lab in about 48 hours,” Dr. Gambla said.
Asked if he believed the hospital was seeing the first wave of a possible surge, he stopped short however.
“It’s hard to know what constitutes a wave as testing was backlogged for a time and as it was caught up, we saw positive tests increase but also saw negative tests increase,” he said.
Beaufort County currently has the sixth highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, according to DHEC, and is also among the top six in terms of rate of cases per 100,000 people.
In addition, with seven deaths due to COVID-19, it is the second highest county in the state in coronavirus-related fatalities – second only to Richland County which has had 10 deaths, as of April 12.
Other hospital systems that have released their numbers include the Medical University of South Carolina, which had four people hospitalized from COVID-19, as of Wednesday, April 8, according to ABC-4, in Charleston and the medical center’s website. Eight were waiting at the hospital for their test results.
Prisma also released its numbers telling The (Columbia) State newspaper that, as of Friday, April 10, 80 COVID-19 patients had been hospitalized at its facilities across the state, including its hospital rooms and intensive care units.
A top medical official with the health system also told the newspaper that between 40 and 50 percent of patients on ventilators have died, noting the startling and often sudden decline in these patients in particular.
In March, Beaufort Memorial Hospital said it had 29 ventilators to support patients and could convert other areas of the hospital to support a surge. It also set up two large tents in the parking lot across from its ER to triage COVID-19 patients.
While it refused to release the numbers of patients it is currently treating or has treated for the virus to date, the hospital did say it has tested 817 people, as of Friday, with 91 testing positive and 607 testing negative.
In the same email, Beaufort Memorial’s president and CEO Russell Baxley, said that it was “still in a very good place” in terms of equipment, supplies and staff and was prepared as if a surge could happen “at any time.”
“We would always like to have more personal protective equipment (PPE), but right now we’re comfortable,” Baxley said.
4 more cases reported in Beaufort County
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) on Tuesday announced four new cases of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 in Beaufort County, bringing the total to 198.
Seven people have died in Beaufort County.
Across the state, there were 115 new cases and 10 additional deaths reported on Tuesday. This brings the total number of people confirmed to have COVID-19 in South Carolina to 3,553 and those who have died to 97.