South Carolina disabilities department reports 36 COVID-19 deaths

VIDEO: South Carolina disabilities department reports 36 COVID-19 deaths

SUMMERVILLE, S.C. (WCSC) - More than a thousand people who either work for or depend on the services of the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs have tested positive for COVID-19.

Numbers released by the agency on Aug. 20 show that a total of 958 staff members have been tested, with 693 receiving positive test results. A DDSN report states that 334 employees have already recovered.

In addition, 781 DDSN clients, also known as consumers, have been tested. The agency says that 416 of them, more than half, tested positive. More than 40 percent of the consumers who were diagnosed with the coronavirus have recovered, according to DDSN’s report.

“A number that I don’t take any pleasure in bringing is total fatalities,” said DDSN Associate State Director Rufus Britt during a DDSN Commission meeting last week.

“In our system, we’ve had a total of 36 individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to die,” Britt noted, adding that “this brings the importance of eliminating this virus to the forefront and our hearts and prayers go out to these families.”

Live 5 News first revealed in July that there were dozens of coronavirus cases associated with DDSN’s Coastal Regional Center in Dorchester County. The DDSN report from August 20 shows that only 10 consumers and 43 staff members at the Summerville facility have been tested for COVID-19. All 53 individuals tested positive, according to the report.

Two Coastal Center consumers with COVID-19 have died, while two other consumers have recovered from the coronavirus.

DDSN also says that 25 employees at the Coastal Center have recovered from the virus. The agency resumed in-person day programming at the facility last week.

A table showing the COVID-19 impact to the DDSN system
A table showing the COVID-19 impact to the DDSN system (Source: DDSN)

After our first story aired, more than 15 staff members reached out to Live 5 News concerned about working conditions at the Coastal Center, but none felt comfortable going on camera.

Those who reached out all felt that staff members should receive hazard pay during the pandemic, but DDSN State Director Mary Poole told us at the time that bonuses were only for people working with COVID-19 patients. Poole reiterated this during the DDSN commission meeting last week.

“We have gotten volunteers to work specially with the individuals who are sick because of this bonus, although everybody else on campus wants it too, but you know, it’s just something we can’t do,” said Poole.

She added that during town hall meetings with employees at DDSN campuses, “I basically said, you know, get on the list to volunteer to work with people that are sick if you want the bonus, because we do have a list of folks who are volunteering.”

Live 5 News also obtained an internal memo that Poole sent to employees of DDSN’s regional centers on August 10. The memo says that some direct care workers at regional centers like Coastal will now qualify for emergency paid sick leave “retroactive to April 1, 2020.”

Employees will generally be eligible if they were told that they needed to self-quarantine or if they have experienced coronavirus symptoms and were seeking a medical diagnosis, according to the memo.

A DDSN spokesperson could not be reached for additional comment.

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