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Ongoing coverage of South Carolina's recovery from the flooding of 2015.What had been Lindsay Langdale's Columbia home October 3, 2015 was a flooded ruin the next day.This coverage is made possible by a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In October of 2015, South Carolina received rainfall in unprecedented amounts over just a few days time. By the time the rain began to slacken, the National Weather Service reported that the event had dumped more than two feet of water on the state. The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the subsequent flooding was the worst in 75 years.

Flood-damaged Williamsburg Regional Hospital to open temporary ER

In October, heavy rains flooded the roof of Williamsburg Regional Hospital and damaged the building beyond repair. The building may be closed but hospital staff plan to reopen, first in temporary buildings made of tractor trailers and modular units.

Crews are at work at WIlliamsburg Regional Hospital, building a temporary ER out of modular units.
Credit Laura Hunsberger/SC Public Radio
Crews are at work at WIlliamsburg Regional Hospital, building a temporary ER out of modular units.

In front of the Williamsburg Regional Hospital, crews are at work constructing a temporary ER made from fully-equipped tractor trailers and modular buildings. The hospital in Kingstree suspended services in early February after hospital staff determined damage from the October floods had made the building unsafe for patient care. Sharon Poston, Chief Executive Officer for Williamsburg Regional Hospital, says the trouble started when heavy rain flooded the building’s rubber roof. South Carolina Public Radio’s Laura Hunsberger has the story.

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Rural hospitals in South Carolina are facing many challenges to stay in business. In the past few years, hospitals such as Bamberg County Memorial Hospital and Marlboro Park Hospital have closed their doors due to financial difficulties. Southern Palmetto Hospital in Barnwell suspended services in January and is currently evaluating how they may continue to provide medical services to the community in the future.

Williamsburg Regional Hospital also suspended services in February, but for different reasons. Sharon Poston, the CEO for Williamsburg Regional, says the hospital was actually doing well financially before the October floods hit. The hospital had financial difficulties in the past, but had made a profit of 1.4 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2015. Although the hospital building did not flood from the ground up, water damage to the roof caused irreparable damage to the old structure. This damage is certainly a financial set-back for Williamsburg Regional Hospital, but Poston remains optimistic that the hospital will reopen in a new building, stronger than before.

Once completed, the temporary ER will look just like a regular “brick and mortar” building from inside.
Credit Laura Hunsberger/SC Public Radio
Once completed, the temporary ER will look just like a regular “brick and mortar” building from inside.

Jimmy Walker, Senior Vice President for the South Carolina Hospital Association says it’s a challenge for rural hospitals to continue operations because rural communities, in general, are not as well-off as urban communities. With fewer employment opportunities, people are less likely to have commercial insurance, and the health status of rural residents may be lower than urban residents. This makes it more difficult for small rural hospitals to make a profit, and rural counties struggle to attract enough physicians and advanced practitioners to meet the needs of the community. Yet, the people in these communities still need medical services available nearby.

Williamsburg Regional Hospital is one of five Critical Access Hospitals in the state. Walker says these hospitals receive a cost-based reimbursement from Medicare, and Williamsburg may have been doing better financially because of this certification. These hospitals provide life-saving services for people who need emergency care and benefit residents who may need regular medical treatment but would not be able to travel the distance to the nearest Tertiary Care Hospital. All five of the Critical Access Hospitals in South Carolina (including Abbeville County Memorial Hospital, Allendale County Hospital, Edgefield County Hospital, and Fairfield Memorial Hospital) remain open.

Five Critical Access Hospitals provide integral care to patients in rural counties who may not be able to travel to a tertiary care hospital.
Credit Google Maps
Five Critical Access Hospitals provide integral care to patients in rural counties who may not be able to travel to a tertiary care hospital.