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How T&D Region families are changing their Thanksgiving plans

Susan Smoak comes from a family of cotton farmers and amid the coronavirus pandemic is seriously considering taking her Thanksgiving meal from the dinner table to the cotton field. 

It is outdoors amid the fresh air where her family can socially distance and yet be near her youngest son, who she knows will not be coming in from the field to enjoy the meal inside.

“Since the weather just got dry again, Edwin will be picking cotton on Thanksgiving Day. This time of year, he doesn’t take a lunch break. He puts things in the cab of his cotton picker and just eats there. He will not take the time to stop and eat a Thanksgiving meal,” Smoak said.

“So we’re thinking about taking it to him, and just his older brother will be here. We’ll get our Thanksgiving meal, get a table and chairs and go out there and sit in the field and have a Thanksgiving meal,” she said.

The Orangeburg resident, a mother of four, said coronavirus concerns will not permit two of her children to celebrate at the scaled down dinner. Only Edwin and his wife are expected, along with Smoak’s older son and his wife and two children.

“People are doing what needs to be done where it needs to be done. We’ll be out and feel very safe doing that. All of my family can’t come. We’re praying for Christmas. I also can’t have my sister and her grandchildren like normal. You just can’t do it this year,” she said.

Smoak said, “Getting through this healthy is what it’s all about. We miss being with everybody. We do Facetime, we do Zoom, but it’s of course not the same. Not even close, but I’m glad we have the technology.”

She added, “You’ve got to know that people are doing things differently besides just making it smaller. There are a lot of creative people out there. They find a way to make it work.

Smoak is indeed one of several families who are not planning what would typically be large family gatherings on Thanksgiving day.

Orangeburg resident Gail Jarvis, who has five sisters and three brothers, along with a host of nieces, nephews and cousins, said her family decided that a Zoom conference call would have to replace the usual gathering they would normally have.

“It really does hurt our hearts. First of all, we want to be in compliance with the CDC and the recommendations. We will all be together in our (own) homes, but we have decided as a family that we’re doing to do a Zoom call on that Thursday evening to talk to each other and fellowship,” Jarvis said.

“That’s our alternative plan. We miss each other strongly. We’re very close, very connected, but all families have decided that we’ll just stay within our own realm with immediate family and do a Zoom call to see each other’s faces and show our love,” she said.

Jarvis said while they will be separated this holiday, she is just happy that all of her siblings are alive and well, along with their families.

She said abiding by recommended health guidelines to help prevent the spread of the virus is paramount.

“We are grateful. We thank God that as of now we are all here. We know in time this will pass, but we’re going to be obedient,” Jarvis said.

North resident Betty Strobert, who also has several siblings, said, “We’re not really doing anything differently, but it’s just going to be our immediate family. We’re going to gather at my sister Bess’ home and continue with the tradition.”

“We come up with a menu and different ones cook different things off the menu,” she said, but there will be no invitations for added guests beyond immediate family.

“With the pandemic and everything, this year we’re just going to do just us. If weather permits, we’ll set up tables outside but, if not, we’ll do it indoors. Before, we would just go in and anybody could just take a part.

“With the pandemic, we’re going to have to try to be a little bit more careful and not try to get in big crowds. We’re trying to cut down on the crowd and limit getting in the mix of a whole lot of people. We don’t know where this thing is. You just you have to proceed with caution,” Strobert said.

She added, “This year has really shown us that there’s so much that we need to be thankful for.”

Orangeburg resident Gladys Johnson said, “We’re not going to be getting together as a family. We’re going to be getting together as a household, and that’s it. My grandson lives with me. My daughter lives in town, and she has a son living with her. But we’re not getting together as a family.”

She added, “Normally, all of us would get together, but we’re not doing that. My daughter works in health care, and she wants to stay away from as many people as she can. I don’t want to give her anything. So that’s just it. We’re not congregating.”

Instead, Johnson will be preparing a meal for her and her 21-year-old grandson.

“I know that’s not a celebration, but you don’t have to have a crowd to be thankful and to give thanks,” she said.

Swansea resident Felicia Toland said she and her husband and their three young children will be having a relatively quiet celebration at her mother’s home this year.

“It’s going to be much smaller this time. We’re going to be going to my mom, and it’s just going to be my mom and us. The numbers are going back with the COVID-19. So we decided to have a smaller group this time,” Toland said.

Normally, she would be celebrating the holiday among a much larger crowd of cousins and other relatives.

“It’s really not a good feeling because you’re used to be around everybody for the holidays. Everybody’s telling jokes and old stories from back in the day, but it’s just a big difference now,” she said, noting that she made changes this year “for the safety of my family.”

Bamberg resident Eva Manigault, 69, said she will not be traveling to her niece’s home in Columbia this year for a family dinner. Instead, she and her 77-year-old sister, Nannie, with whom she lives, will be staying put.

“I guess probably my sister from right down the street might come and eat dinner with us, but me and my other sister live together and will be home. We won’t be traveling,” Manigault said.

“I will be doing the turkey and the trimmings and that sort of thing, but it will be small,” she said.

Manigault, a member of the Bamberg County Family and Community Leaders group, said the coronavirus has also put a hold on the group’s plans to hold a community Thanksgiving dinner this year.

She said purchasing gift cards for needy community residents is among the alternative plans being tossed around among the group.

“Things are so different, and this year we don’t know what we plan to do,” she said.

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Hospital working to improve finances; consultants examining several areas

The Regional Medical Center is looking for ways to improve its bottom line as it continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, the hospital’s chief financial officer says.

"COVID 19 has affected everything," interim CFO Rick Langosch told hospital trustees Thursday.

The virus has impacted hospital staffing and expenses, especially for items like personal protective equipment, he said.

The hospital is working with financial consultant Kaufman Hall to look at its revenue cycle as well as its managed care initiatives and contracts.

Incoming interim RMC CEO Kirk Wilson “and I are going through the priorities to see if we can make a difference in our profitability," Langosch said.

RMC is looking at:

• Renegotiating contracts

• Engaging with group purchasing organizations to reduce supply expenses

• Engaging medical device vendors for reduced pricing

• Reassessing service offerings for efficiencies

• Tracking productivity

• Developing a recruitment and retention committee

• Looking at contract pricing with pharmaceutical companies

• Reducing clinical variation

Earlier this year, the RMC entered a performance improvement consulting agreement with Kaufman Hall in an attempt to help right its financial ship due to the financial losses dealing with COVID.

Under the agreement, Kaufman Hall will conduct an analysis of the hospital and assess its areas of potential operational efficiencies.

On Thursday, the board discussed a monitoring agreement with Kaufman Hall which, if approved, would allow the company to monitor and audit progress for one year once the core project is complete.

During the month of October, RMC saw a total operating loss of about $2 million. The entire system – including the hospital's six primary care practices – saw a loss of $2.1 million.

The hospital did have a favorable net revenue for the month of about $793,000, but operating expenses were about $1.3 million over budget as well, Langosch said.

Contract labor cost RMC $1.1 million in October, the equivalent of 64 employees. It spent about $551,000 over the budgeted amount.

Langosch said supplies were also over budget by about $954,000 due to higher volumes in the operating room, lab and pharmacy.

In related matters:

• Edisto Regional Health Services Chair Gladys Arends said the hospital's primary care practices had 3,273 visits during the month of October and 213 telehealth visits.

Arends noted the hospital's new Express Care saw 261 visits for the month.

"The time spent in the Express Care ... is decreasing nicely," Arends said. Satisfaction scores are in the 90 percentile.

"The service line is growing very well,” she said.

• Trustees entered into closed session to discuss and receive information on a number of items including the president's report; the ongoing CEO search process; a revenue cycle, nursing staff, and stroke program update and to receive a real estate proposal.

• Trustees received an update on the purchase of property in St. Matthews.

The hospital is purchasing about 6-1/2 acres of land on U.S. Highway 601 in St. Matthews between Forest Drive and Amaker Street. The cost is about $180,000.

• RMC's lease of the Medical Arts Building located behind the hospital expires at the end of the year. The hospital is currently in negotiations for a five-year lease for portions of the building. The building houses a number of hospital services, including cardiology, orthopedics and endocrinology.

• The board voted to not accept reimbursement for the construction/paving costs from Bamberg County for the loop road surrounding the newly constructed Bamberg-Barnwell Emergency Medical Center.

Bamberg County helped the hospital pave the road and if the funds are reimbursed, the road would become public. Bamberg County officials say the $155,000 not reimbursed to the hospital will go toward the paving of other county roads.

• Trustees named RMC Foundation Board officers for 2021: Charles Williams III, chair; Dr. Tracy Macpherson, chair-elect; Allen Fairey, treasurer and Rebekkah Brailsford, secretary.

• Richburg thanked outgoing hospital President Charles Williams for his service to the hospital over the past three years. He will serve as president until Dec. 10.