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September 2020

New support line created for people struggling with pandemic hardships

By News

With the novel coronavirus continuing to proliferate around the world, more and more people are suffering from a different kind of pandemic: mental health and substance abuse disorders.

In response, the South Carolina Department of Mental Health teamed up with the Department of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Services to create 844-SC-HOPES, an anonymous 24/7 support line for those who are struggling to cope with the numerous hardships created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to mental health and addictions support, the hotline was also designed specifically to help healthcare workers and those suffering financial hardships.

Deborah Blalock, deputy director of the DMH, said when people began to practice social distancing in early March, some were disconnected from their support groups, which sometimes results in a relapse.

“If people are isolated, if people can’t reach their support groups, then they’re going to perhaps drink or use other substances,” Blalock said. “We knew that for the mental health population, that being isolated may increase depression.”

Many people are facing increased anxiety over their own personal health, job security, and the wellbeing of their loved ones, Blalock said.

In a matter of weeks, the new support line was set up in collaboration with local providers and licensed mental health and substance abuse counselors. A healthcare outreach team was created to serve healthcare workers who are struggling with the stressors caused by battling the virus firsthand.

The SCDMH provides care regardless of a person’s ability to pay but people do receive a bill. Blalock said a grant covers the costs of services.

Sara Goldsby, director of the DAODAS, said in addition to the SC Hopes hotline, many of the traditional services provided by the DMH and the DAODAS have been moved online, so that people do not miss out on support, as they practice social distancing.

“People don’t need to feel disconnected and isolated,” Goldsby said. “All of the treatment services that folks would typically receive at our county alcohol and drug authorities are available by telehealth and by telephone; and this main support line that’s accessible to any South Carolinian is that connection to those services. We really want people to be reaching out to connect.”

Orangeburg County schools helping expand health care; district teaming up with providers to offer telehealth

By News

After signing a memorandum of understanding, Palmetto Care Connections Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting, left, Orangeburg County School District Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster, center, and Regional Medical Center President and CEO Charles Williams come together for a celebratory fist bump.

The Times and Democrat

By: Dionne Gleaton

The Orangeburg County School District has developed a mobile application that can link its students and their families with telehealth services.

It is something that Annesia Jackson is happy about. The Dallas native moved to Orangeburg three years ago and has two daughters who attend school in the district.

“I think it’s important. It gives ready access to a health care representative to be able to assist in situations so we don’t have to call and have a waiting time. We can get online and be able to speak to someone right then and right there to help out in a situation,” Jackson said.

She added, “This would be really good for us as parents, I believe, just to get that immediate help right then and there.”

OCSD partnered with Palmetto Care Connections, a Bamberg-based nonprofit telehealth network; the Regional Medical Center; Family Health Centers Inc. and Bamberg Family Practice for the creation of a S.M.A.R.T. (Students’ Medical Access to Resources in Telehealth) Virtual Health Collaborative.

School officials, along with those from partnering agencies, converged upon the district office in Orangeburg on Monday to announce the effort.

Under the initiative, a S.M.A.R.T. Virtual Health Collaborative app now appears on all district-issued devices and leads to a webpage of telehealth providers. Students and families can also begin accessing telehealth services through the district’s website by clicking on the app and selecting a provider of their choice.

S.M.A.R.T. can also be accessed directly through the following link: Individuals can also simply go to, click on Quick Links at the bottom right of the page, scroll down to Parent/Student Resources and click on OCSD – SMART Virtual Telehealth.

OCSD Superintendent Dr. Shawn Foster said it is critical to provide access to health care services to individuals who are not only without transportation, but the necessary technology to access the services remotely.

Foster recalled speaking with RMC Chief Executive Officer Charles Williams about the challenge.

“I recall Mr. Williams and his epidemiologist were talking about some of the struggles that they were having here in the community in regard to access, that he had people in this community calling in, wanting to see a doctor,” Foster said.

If the caller said they didn’t have transportation, “the hospital then followed up and would ask, ‘Well, do you have a device to use?’ They said, ‘Well, I don’t have a device. I don’t even have a smart phone.’ So they found themselves in a challenging situation, where they were trying to provide services over the phone, which is not an ideal circumstance,” he said.

Foster said it wasn’t long before the FHC came on board with the telehealth initiative.

An opportunity existed that allowed OCSD to fill a gap in providing services, he said.

“I’ve said since day one that I hope to have Orangeburg in a space where our education is no longer product-driven, that we’re solution-driven.

“When I say product-driven, I mean it’s more than about getting 24 credits and getting a high school diploma. It’s about being an educational institution that is willing to seek solutions to gaps that we have in our community,” he said.

The superintendent thanked the other community partners such as Palmetto Care Connections and its staff, including Director of Technology Matt Hiatt.

PCC is seeking to expand the list of providers in the S.M.A.R.T. Virtual Health Collaborative. There is no expense to medical entities for participation in the collaborative, but there is a request that they provide professional and patient care to those they serve.

PCC Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting said, “Our whole purpose and mission in life is to make sure that rural and underserved communities have access to care. I’ve spent 25 years in rural health care, and I’ve always said that your zip code should not define the quality of service you have, the type of service, or the quality of the life that you live.”

“If you want to live in Orangeburg, Bamberg, Allendale, you should still have access to the same high-quality services. That’s what PCC is built on. … We have helped lots of rural communities in the state implement school-based telehealth, but not with the vision that Dr. Foster has had. So I’m very grateful for that,” Schwarting said.

Schwarting said children will still have access to their primary care providers.

“We have other primary clinics in the county and around the county that would like to participate. We also believe that children should have access to their primary care provider. If they already have a medical home, don’t ship them out to a health system. Let them see their health care provider if at all possible and then let the health systems, if needed, complement that service for some specialty services,” she said.

“So we’re very blessed in this community to have Mr. Williams, Dr. Foster, the Family Health Center,” she added.

Williams said, “I am so thankful to Dr. Foster. We sat down and we talked about this. The entire discussion that we had for probably a little over two hours that day, it was never about us. It was all about how we can serve.”

“Many of you that know me and you know our team, it’s all about trust, building sustainability and always focusing on the community. We do nothing for ourselves, but for the people we are blessed to serve. We are nothing but tools to be used by the master carpenter to do his work,” he said.

Williams said the mobile app will allow more people to have access to health care.

“By the grace of God and this partnership, patients that need care now, if they have a school-age child with this device in their home, they will have access. … We will be able to send them a link, they will be able to hit the link, and they will be able to be seen by their provider. Everything cannot wait.”

Palmetto Care Connections Announces New Board Members

By News

DATE: September 9, 2020


BAMBERG, SC—Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) Chief Executive Officer Kathy Schwarting announces that Chief Executive Officer of CareSouth Carolina, Ann Lewis and retired Director of SC Department of Mental Health John H. Magill have joined the PCC Board of Directors.

“Ann Lewis is a pioneer in her field. She has shepherded growth over the past 30 years addressing health care needs of the Pee Dee community. CareSouth Carolina now serves more than 38,000 patients and staffs over 500 employees in ten rural communities,” said Schwarting. “CareSouth Carolina has been an early provider of telehealth services in rural communities, and PCC is fortunate to have Ann’s knowledge and expertise on the board.”

Lewis has served as the Chair of the Greater Pee Dee Champion Community and on the Hartsville Rotary Club; the Coker College Board of Visitors; Darlington County Communities in Schools; Pee Dee Area Health Education Consortium; Pee Dee Alzheimer’s Association; the Children’s AIDS fund, Northeastern Rural Health Network, and many other groups.

Through CareSouth Carolina, she provides volunteer support to the American Cancer Society; American Heart Association; local chambers of commerce; downtown development associations; local agri-tourism; and was awarded the 2004 South Carolina Ambassador for Economic Development by South Carolina Commerce and the Governor, as well as numerous Volunteer of the Year awards by the organization.

On a state and national level, Lewis is the founding president of the South Carolina Rural Health Association and a former president of the South Carolina Primary Health Care Association. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) presented Ann with the 2012 John Gilbert Award, which recognizes longstanding excellence and leadership in community health. She received The Champion Award presented by the South Carolina Primary Healthcare Association in 2017 for her “extraordinary leadership, commitment and dedication to the vision and mission of community health centers.”

“PCC also welcomes John H. Magill to the board of directors,” said Schwarting. “PCC has had a long-standing partnership with SCDMH, and Mr. Magill has been an advocate of PCC’s work and a champion of telehealth for many years. After his extraordinary career in mental health, PCC is honored and privileged to have him as a board member.”

Magill retired as the SC Department of Mental Health State Director in January 2019, a position he held for 12 years. He is currently the longest serving public mental health director in the United States.

Magill began his career with the Department at the former South Carolina State Hospital in the 1960s. During his career, he served as the state of Georgia’s director for Alcohol and Drug Abuse, he was the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fenwick Hall Hospital on Johns Island, South Carolina, and he also served as a deputy chair and Professor of Psychiatry in the Medical University of South Carolina’s Department of Psychiatry.

Magill received the Governor’s Award: The Order of the Palmetto in 2011 in recognition of his service to the citizens of South Carolina and contributions to behavioral health care. In October of 2011, the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine honored Magill with the Dean’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his ongoing commitment to the School, where he remains a clinical professor of Psychiatry.

Under his leadership, SCDMH launched its nationally acclaimed Emergency Department Telepsychiatry program, which was developed to meet the critical shortage of psychiatrists in South Carolina’s underserved areas and assist hospital emergency rooms by providing appropriate treatment to persons in a psychiatric crisis. The program employs state-of-the-art telehealth technology to connect SCDMH psychiatrists to hospital emergency departments throughout the State.

Built on the success of its telepsychiatry services to emergency departments, SCDMH equipped its hospitals, mental health centers, and clinics to provide psychiatric treatment services to its patients via telepsychiatry. From 2013 – 2020, the Telepsychiatry Program has provided more than 223,000 psychiatric treatment services to SCDMH patients throughout South Carolina. SCDMH is the largest provider of telehealth services in the state.

Established in 2010, PCC is a non-profit organization that provides technology, broadband, and telehealth support services to health care providers in rural and underserved areas in S.C. PCC leads the S.C. Broadband Consortium which facilitates broadband connections for health care providers throughout the
state. PCC co-chairs the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance, along with the Medical University of South Carolina, partnering with health care organizations and providers to improve health care access and delivery for all South Carolinians.

Some students without high-speed internet will get their assignments through SCETV signals

By News


COLUMBIA — South Carolina will soon use TV signals to enable students without high-speed internet to get and complete their virtual assignments at home, officials announced Wednesday.

The pilot program launching next month will benefit about 5,000 students in three districts: Fairfield and Jasper counties and York 1.

“We’re taking the schoolhouse to the child,” Gov. Henry McMaster said at a joint announcement with state Superintendent Molly Spearman and South Carolina Educational Television officials.

The technology, called datacasting, will use the state’s public airwaves to transmit encrypted data to the computers of students who either didn’t qualify for taxpayer-paid mobile hot spots or live in an area where the cellphone signal is too weak for the Wi-Fi device to do much good.

Nearly 89,000 of those hot spots, bought with federal coronavirus aid, went to households of K-12 students poor enough to qualify. By Tuesday, all 81 of South Carolina’s school districts had started the school year, mostly with a mix of in-person and online learning. But how many students statewide still lack the ability to access their schoolwork at home remains unclear.

Officials call the SCETV transmissions another short-term solution in bridging South Carolina’s digital divide until broadband is extended to every community.

“This is a piece of the puzzle that’s vital at this particular time,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, R-Walhalla.

New technology promises to help rural SC students with virtual learning

By News

A collaboration between the South Carolina Dept. of Education (SCDE) and South Carolina Education Television (ETV) seeks to help students in rural areas with little to no internet access.

The technology is called datacasting and uses SCETV’s signal to send lessons to students without internet access.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster made the rural education initiative announcement Wednesday morning during a news conference along with State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman.

The governor announced the state will spend $1.3 million to expand datacasting with SCETV.

RELATED: Inside look of first day of school for Marlboro County students

“This investment will help make sure our students who live without broadband will be able to keep up and get their assignments,” said Gov. McMaster.

Datacasting is the one-way broadcasting of data or information through a television signal.

SCETV thinks this could help deliver lessons and educational information to students in rural areas without internet.

Datacasting is being piloted in York, Jasper and Fairfield Counties but could make its way to the Pee Dee and Grand Strand areas where it’s so desperately needed.

Dillon School District Four Superintendent Ray Rogers said he has students who have no access to broadband.

“There’s a lot of students who have none. Absolutely none. That’s why we work with churches and businesses to try and provide internet services in and around their buildings,” said Rogers.

SCDE said the pilot counties were selected based on COVID-19 cases, broadband access and income levels.

Some question why the Pee Dee wasn’t selected to be one of the counties to take part in the pilot project.

Pee Dee counties are some of the poorest in the state and consistently rank in the top 10 for unemployment rates in South Carolina.

“I don’t [know] what figures they’re using to decide who gets it. But, I don’t know how the Pee Dee area was left out. But, I’m happy for what students it will help. And I hope that it will bring it to us sooner than later,” said Rogers.

SCETV requested more than $1.2 million from the COVID-19 response reserve account to expand datacasting.

“To truly close South Carolina’s broadband gap it will take more than just one initiative”, said Anthony Padgett, SCETV president.

Students will need a computer, an inexpensive tuner, and a TV antenna in order to receive information from datacasting. The students will be provided with this equipment.

Part of the funding will come from a $15 million grant the South Carolina Dept. of Education has. This portion of the funding will be used to purchase equipment for students for datacasting.

The governor said this is a temporary solution until broadband can be expanded throughout the state.

SC to start broadband expansion, but it may only scratch the surface of state’s needs

By News

By Joseph Bustos
September 08, 2020 05:00 AM , Updated September 08, 2020 09:25 AM

More than $50 million worth of broadband expansion projects will start this month in 23 counties around the state to help close the internet service gap exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The shovel-ready projects are being made possible, in part, with funding from the CARES Act, federal coronavirus aid that must be spent by the end of the year. The dollars will help internet providers expand service to areas where it may take longer to turn a profit.

As of Thursday, the Office of Regulatory Staff, a state agency tasked with providing internet connections to needy state residents during the pandemic, has approved 71 projects to expand broadband in 23 counties, including Orangeburg, Lancaster, Lexington and Fairfield counties. The agency will reimburse broadband companies 50% of the project costs, said Nanette Edwards the director of ORS.

“What they’ve done is they’ve tried to pick up areas where they knew they could do it quickly. I think that’s why you see it dispersed,” Edwards said.

The broadband projects are a good start, but also a drop in the bucket toward closing the state’s broadband access gap. There are 650,000 South Carolinians and 180,000 households in the state without high-speed internet access. One broadband expert in the state says it would cost $800 million to connect the rest of the households in the state without broadband access.
The Buzz on SC Politics

ORS expects contractors to begin the small expansion projects this month and complete them before the end of the year, before the Dec. 31 deadline for spending CARES Act money.

And ORS did not have the number of households that are expected to have broadband access immediately available after the projects are complete.

The agency is working to create a broadband map to determine its own estimate of what it would take to completely build out broadband in the state, but acknowledged that the money being spent now is small.

“I think it’s really hard to give it a concrete number to say this is what it’s really going to cost to do a complete build out of the state of South Carolina to every structure that’s capable of having internet,” Edwards said.

Read more here:

CMS Eyes Expanded Coverage for Innovative Telemedicine Devices

By News

By Eric Wicklund

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has issued a proposed rule that aims to allow Medicare coverage for “breakthrough devices,” giving providers and patients access to cutting-edge telemedicine and mHealth tools.

– Federal officials are proposing to expand Medicare coverage for new telemedicine and mHealth technologies classified as “breakthrough medical devices.”

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a proposed rule this week that aims to cut the lengthy review process for what are considered cutting-edge devices, giving Medicare beneficiaries and their care providers the freedom to use the technology while the US Food and Drug Administration reviews the products for long-term approval.

“For new technologies, CMS coverage approval has been a chicken and egg issue,” CMS Administrator Seema Verma said in a press release. “Innovators had to prove their technologies were appropriate for seniors, but that was almost impossible since the technology was not yet covered by Medicare and thus widely used enough to demonstrate their suitability for Medicare beneficiaries. These efforts will ensure seniors get access to the latest technologies while lowering costs for innovators.”

The proposed rule could prompt healthcare providers to invest more time and energy in telehealth and remote patient monitoring programs that make use of the new technology to improve patient care in the home setting, particularly for those living with chronic diseases.

The proposed Medicare Coverage of Innovative Technology (MCIT) pathway would allow Medicare coverage for FDA-designated breakthrough devices on the same day that the FDA provides market authorization – which occurs after 510(k) premarket notification, De Novo request or premarket approval application – for those devices. The coverage would last for four years, after which the FDA would review the technology.

READ MORE: Texas Hospital Using mHealth Wearables to Monitor Cardiac Patients at Home


The order also covers breakthrough devices classified for two years prior to the date this rule becomes effective.

“A breakthrough device must provide for more effective treatment or diagnosis of a life-threatening or irreversibly debilitating human disease or condition and must also meet at least one part of a second criterion, such as by being a ‘breakthrough technology’ or offering a treatment option when no other cleared or approved alternatives exist,” CMS said in an accompanying fact sheet. “For beneficiaries impacted by these diseases, MCIT will provide assurance that they will have access to the latest breakthrough medical devices to treat their condition, provided the devices have a Medicare benefit category.”

“We believe 4 years of Medicare coverage will encourage manufacturers to voluntarily develop evidence to show these treatments improve the health of Medicare patients,” the agency added. “This time period for coverage would allow clinical studies with Medicare patients to be completed while providing broad immediate access and fostering innovation.  When MCIT coverage sunsets, manufacturers would have all current coverage options available such as a National Coverage Determination (NCD), one or more Local Coverage Determinations (LCD), and claim by claim decisions.”

The rule would also clarify how CMS covers new telemedicine and mHealth technology, by codifying the definition of “reasonable and necessary” for the Medicare population. Under the proposed definition the device must be (1) safe and effective, (2) not experimental or investigational, and (3) appropriate for use by Medicare patients.

Officials said the new rule might encourage connected health companies to develop clinical studies with providers and Medicare patients to prove the long-term value of their products prior to the end of the four-year period.

READ MORE: University of Memphis Launches NIH-Funded mHealth Research Center


Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through November 2.

The proposal drew positive support from The Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), a Washington DC-based trade association.

“In order to incentivize innovative medical breakthroughs, the federal government must ensure those breakthrough technologies are covered by Medicare,” AdvaMed President and CEO Scott Whitaker said in a press release. “We are pleased that this proposed rule gets us closer to this goal as it would help ensure the patients who need these innovative technologies have access to them.”

“CMS’ proposal complements provisions in several recent Medicare rules that have enhanced new technology add-on payments (NTAP) and transitional pass through (TPT) payments for FDA-designated breakthrough technologies,” added  John Liddicoat, MD, executive vice president and president of the Americas Region for Medtronic, an AdvaMed member and developer of mHealth tools and platforms for people living with diabetes. “While we are still reviewing the proposed rules to understand their full impact, it appears that combined, these rules will go a long way toward modernizing payment and coverage of transformational medical technologies, incentivizing innovation, and most importantly, improving patient care by ensuring Medicare beneficiary access to these new therapies.”