Prisma Health and Richland County have collaborated to create a successful Mobile Integrated Healthcare (MIH) team response that has effectively helped halt the spread of COVID-19 among the Midlands region’s homeless population.

As COVID-19 started to spread, Prisma Health was working with Richland County and other agencies to plan for Alternate Care Sites (ACS) to serve the Upstate and Midlands populations if hospitals reached capacity. Although ACS was not needed, the team realized there was a need to be sure that there was not spread of COVID-19 among the homeless population.

The organizations collaborated with the MIH team, which is part of Richland County Emergency Medical Service (EMS) who has tested potential residents of the downtown Transitions Homeless Center for COVID-19 since May. Dr. Bill Gerard, medical director for the Prisma Health Midlands Emergency Departments and Medical Director for Richland County Emergency Medical Services, says the program has been very successful. “It has made a huge impact. We haven’t seen a massive outbreak in these members of the community. It is a well-coordinated effort that helped stop the spread.”

Before admitting a potential resident and after a positive Covid-19 screening process, Transitions can request that they be tested for COVID-19, Gerard said. An MIH team member then will come to the shelter to conduct a nasal swab test on the candidate. The swabs go to a Prisma Health lab for processing and analysis. This usually takes about 90-120 minutes.

Potential residents are placed in isolation at Transitions while their samples are processed. Those who test negative for COVID-19 can continue the admission process at the homeless center. If they test positive, they are quarantined away from the shelter if they do not require hospitalization, and other temporary housing options are coordinated.

Michael Byrd, Richland County EMS director, added, “Oftentimes the homeless population is underserved and lacks access to health care. This, coupled with their close living conditions in the various shelters, make them extremely at risk for easy transmission of diseases such as COVID-19.”

Craig Currey, Transitions Homeless Center, Chief Executive Officer, believes the service has been critical. He said, “This service has allowed us to remove someone who is sick from a congregate setting and place them in a safer recovery environment. The flexibility of them to come onsite, test the client, and then get the results back immediately has benefited our clients and has been a great help to us. It allows us to continue taking care of a large population of homeless people while removing the extremely few who are sick and make sure they receive the medical care needed.”

Now, leaders of the program have expanded this initiative heading into the winter months, said Gerard. They now serve the residents of the Salvation Army and Toby’s Place in addition to Transitions.

“Providing this kind of care every day is important but during the pandemic it is crucial. We are proud to partner with Richland County to serve our community to fill an unmet need,” Gerard said.

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