'Just look at those statistics': Upstate hospitals again freeze non-emergency surgeries as COVID-19 patients filling beds


Early images of National Guard uniforms mingling with scrubs have returned. So have doctors' decisions on who receives care and who does not.

Prisma Health announced Wednesday the state's largest health care system is postponing elective inpatient surgeries in the Upstate in response to "a now record-breaking surge of COVID-19 hospital admissions throughout our health care system."

Greenville Memorial Hospital is temporarily postponing such procedures Thursday and Friday. As of Wednesday, elective surgeries were also paused at Prisma's community hospitals in the Upstate, which includes Baptist Easley Hospital, Greer Memorial Hospital, Hillcrest Hospital, Laurens County Memorial Hospital and Oconee Memorial Hospital. The pause will run through at least Friday, Sept. 17.

Emergent and urgent surgeries will be performed in those hospitals on a case-by-case basis.

The reason: Beds and staff are too low, hospitalizations because of COVID-19 too high.

Prisma Health, which serves 1.2 million people in South Carolina a year and has hospitals and physician offices in the Upstate and Midlands, including Tuomey Hospital in Sumter, said its rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday surpassed the record set during the then-record January wave.

Systemwide on Tuesday, 568 people were hospitalized with the virus. The January peak was 546.

As of Wednesday, the number was 566. Currently, 382 patients are in a Prisma hospital with COVID-19 in the Upstate. In the Midlands, that number is 184.

More than 90% are unvaccinated.

"People can debate the value of vaccination for a long time, but if they just look at those statistics, they'll realize how much more vulnerable they are if they're unvaccinated," said Dr. Rick Scott, chief clinical officer and COVID-19 incident commander for Prisma Health in the Midlands.

Prisma's Midlands hospitals have been deferring select cases when inpatient volumes require additional bed capacity for the last two weeks, according to the system.

Just last week, Prisma doctors warned of an imminent triage situation if virus hospitalizations continued to rise. S.C. National Guardsmen deployed to the coast to assist overfull hospitals.

That warning came true.

"We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause, but we must take these additional steps to care for this large number of extremely sick patients," said Dr. Wendell James, chief clinical officer for Prisma Health in the Upstate.

James and other Prisma doctors are now concerned about the impacts recent Labor Day celebrations will have on their already strained system, "and now as we go into fall football season, we are deeply concerned that the public is still not taking this pandemic seriously."

He urged vaccinations in a state where rates are low and cases are high. Still, less than half of the state has completed vaccination.

In Sumter County, which has the state's fourth-lowest rate of vaccination completion and the 15th-largest population aged 12 or older and therefore eligible to receive a shot, 13,948 people have tested positive for COVID-19, 544 have been hospitalized, and 242 have died.

The youngest Sumterite to die from COVID-19: 21 years old.

Statewide, South Carolina is four people away from surpassing 11,000 COVID-19 deaths. According to Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, about 30% of the total cases for the entire school year last year have already been reported. It's Sept. 9.

"If there is any state in the country that should be reconsidering masking, it should be the one with the highest COVID population per 10,000, and that's South Carolina," Prisma Midlands' Scott said. "Whether today Tennessee is one above us or one below doesn't much matter. We have to throw everything we can at this."