Dorchester Co. Coastal Center cited for failure to follow COVID safety guidelines

Updated: Dec. 17, 2020 at 7:34 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A Dorchester County long-term care facility for people with disabilities failed to follow infection control procedures amid an ongoing COVID outbreak among residents and workers, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

SCDHEC conducted an investigation at the Coastal Center earlier this week and cited the facility for not adhering to guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state’s health agency said the Coastal Center is required to send its plan of correction for the cited violation, including preventive and corrective action being taken, to SCDHEC by Friday.

The action comes as DHEC reports an “active” outbreak of COVID cases among residents and workers resulting in at least two deaths at the Coastal Center since the pandemic began.

“DHEC did a very thorough inspection and what was noted in the report was very minor. The inspector noted that four staff members were seen gathered around a desk for longer than 15 minutes. They were all wearing masks. It is very difficult for staff to remain six feet from each other during shifts. The other incident was a caregiver not immediately discarding their gloves after assisting a resident to a chair,” DDSN Public Information Officer Kimberly McLeod said.

DHEC has not yet provided a copy of the full inspection report.

PREVIOUS STORY: 25 COVID-19 cases reported at Coastal Center; four dorms quarantined

PREVIOUS STORY: COVID-19 outbreak causes concerns at Coastal Center in Summerville

PREVIOUS STORY: State addresses COVID-19 and staffing concerns at Coastal Center

The Coastal Center is managed and operated by the SC Department of Disabilities and Special Needs, another state agency “that plans, develops, oversees and funds services for South Carolinians with severe, lifelong disabilities of intellectual disability, autism, traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury and conditions related to each of these four disabilities,” according to DDSN’s website.

DDSN confirmed 14 new COVID-19 cases among people who live here at the Coastal Center and 14 cases among staff within the last two weeks. However, more than 130 residents and employees have tested positive for the virus within the facility since the pandemic first began.

Cases are also rising at other regional centers across the state, and the issue was discussed briefly during the department’s commission meeting Thursday.

“We could have a record month or near record month in December, so it is getting in the walls of our facilities,” DDSN Deputy Director Pat Maley said.

DDSN officials said residents and workers are considered a priority group for the COVID vaccine, under DHEC’s regulations, however they are not among the very first to receive it.

“DHEC has decided that, once approved, Moderna’s vaccine will be used for long-term care facilities because it can be stored in normal freezers and does not require a super-cold transportation network, making it more accessible for smaller facilities. We will provide updates as new information becomes available,” DDSN’s Public Information Officer Kim McLeod said.

While their mission is “to assist people with disabilities and their families,” some advocacy groups claim DDSN could have done more to stop the spread of the coronavirus among residents and staff members within these facilities.

“We could have prevented this from happening. Our state is essentially responsible for every single one of those individuals who get COVID,” said Kimberly Tissot, the executive director of Able SC. The organization advocates for independent living and self-empowerment for people with disabilities.

“Not working on this, not increasing funding, not helping people transition out of institutions is time wasted; lives that could potentially be saved; people that could have avoided getting this infection to begin with,” Able SC’s Sarah Nichols said. “So, not only was there a failure to prevent something like this happening in the first place, but also there’s not been enough action in the meantime to protect people with disabilities...we’re not seeing the quick action that is needed when there’s such a huge threat level such as this.”

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