MUSC Lancaster/Chester Nearly Back to... Wait, Can We Still Say Normal?

May 21, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic put virtual care center stage almost instantly. It just might be one of the answers to the question of what our new normal will be.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

The Medical University of South Carolina’s hospitals in Lancaster and Chester are mostly back to being fully staffed. A little more than a month ago, around 75 of MUSC Health’s 900 layoffs happened at these two Upstate locations, but Scott Broome, the CEO for the Lancaster and Chester locations, said he expects a fully returned staff by July 1.

It’s a far cry from where the hospitals were just weeks ago.

The layoffs happened because business dropped off sharply once elective surgeries and many outpatient procedures were put on hold. At its worst, Broome said, MUSC Health stood to lose “several hundreds of thousands of dollars” every day, unless it made some sudden cuts to expenses. At Lancaster and Chester specifically, that number was several tens of thousands of dollars per day, he said.

The emergency rooms at each location are recovering more slowly than the outpatient services. That’s actually a problem nationwide for hospital systems. Broome said people have simply been afraid of going to the ER – for serious issues that should warrant such a trip – because would-be patients worry about contracting COVID.  

“The risk from ignoring chest pain or from ignoring the signs and symptoms of a stroke, because you’re

CEO Scott Broome of MUSC Lancaster and Chester says safety protocols in place for the outbreak are likely to remain.
Credit Scott Morgan / South Carolina Public Radio

afraid,” he said, “is very high. We have seen instances where people have just waited too long, and then the options for a full recovery become limited.”

At a recent presentation in Rock Hill, Mark Nosacka, CEO of Piedmont Medical Center, said much the same thing about his hospital’s emergency room.

“People who have serious conditions were going untreated,” Nosacka said. “If you have a heart attack, you can’t wait. If you have a stroke, you can’t wait. If you get diagnosed with cancer, you can’t wait. Yet people were waiting because they were afraid of something that they didn’t know.”

But, Nosacka said, health officials know a lot more now than they did just two months ago, including how to better operate a hospital during an infectious outbreak. Piedmont recently began letting patients have one visitor at a time, something he said has caused business at the hospital to rebound well.

But remember, COVID has changed how businesses operate. For Broome, the sudden call for virtual healthcare is likely to carry just as much weight into the future at MUSC Lancaster and Chester as masks and more abundant hand sanitizer stations will. That could, he said, make for a safer healthcare system, a safer public, and a more cost-efficient way of doing business.

“Think of the infection control benefit,” he said. “”We’re all not walking in and out of doctors’ offices potentially exposing ourselves to others, or exposing others to ourselves. [Plus] if we convert hundreds of thousands, or million visits a year to virtual care, the investment in virtual care is a lot lower than building a building to accommodate all those visits.”

Scott Morgan is the Upstate Multimedia Reporter for South Carolina Public Radio. Follow Scott on Twitter @ByScottMorgan