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SC News

MUSC Wants $400M In COVID Cash for Heart, Mental Health Help

FILE - The Medical University of South Carolina's University Hospital, Charleston, SC
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FILE - The Medical University of South Carolina's University Hospital, Charleston, SC

The Medical University of South Carolina wants lawmakers to give the hospital system $400 million of federal COVID-19 relief money to expand mental health therapy and heart and respiratory treatment across the state,

MUSC officials told a Senate panel Thursday reviewing how the state should spend the $2.5 billion of federal help that they would partner with other hospital systems so the new programs could help everyone in South Carolina, The Post and Courier reported.

Putting $200 million toward a "world-class cardiovascular and pulmonary in South Carolina for South Carolina residents" could be even more important in the near future because many long-term problems in COVID-19 patients appear in the heart or lungs, said Dr. Marc Katz, chief of MUSC's cardiothoracic surgery division.

"Even before COVID, we in this state had more than 13,000 deaths every year from cardio respiratory effects, and there are tens of thousands of our citizens that have long-term effects from cardiovascular and pulmonary disease," Katz said. "So it's something that we really need to address."

The $200 million for mental health treatment is needed because South Carolina consistently ranks toward the bottom in access to that kind of help and behavioral health inpatient admissions have increased by 6% over the past three years, MUSC President David Cole said.

"There, in my opinion, is a whole wave, especially in our younger generation, of depression and anxiety that we are just starting to see the tip of the iceberg," Cole said. "If we don't start to get a handle on things now, I would predict that it's only going to get worse."

Lawmakers are considering dozens of plans on how to spend the $2.5 billion of around $9 billion in federal COVID-19 aid they have direct control over. The General Assembly plans a late September special session.

Both the House and Senate have special committees discussing the money.

Also, Gov Henry McMaster had his own committee of government, business and community leaders called Accelerate SC finalize their own plan this week that included money for beaches, for jumpstarting expanding Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia and for getting broadband to every home and business in the state.

Senators said they appreciated MUSC looking for ways to solve serious problems, but they questioned how much other hospital systems in the state would be involved and if all that money needed to go to MUSC.

"The landscape has changed in health care in this state in the last year and a half," said state Sen. Nikki Setzler, a Democrat from West Columbia.. "So when we give you a large sum of money and you're making the decisions but you're still competing with some of these other entities, that changes the ballgame. So I want to know who the alliances are going to be."