July 24, 2014

Are Greenville hospital infections a fluke or serious threat?

Mycobacterium abscessus, which is distantly related to bacteria that can cause tuberculosis (Image: CDC)

Mycobacterium abscessus, which is distantly related to bacteria that can cause tuberculosis (Image: CDC)

Many residents in the Upstate are trying to learn more about an outbreak of surgical infections at Greenville Memorial Hospital which may have caused the deaths of four patients and sickened 11 more.

Last month, Greenville Health System officials revealed the 15 afflicted patients had been infected by mycobacterium abscessus following surgeries this spring. Investigators believe the bacteria somehow contaminated a hospital operating room through the use of tap water. But the preliminary investigation results released on Monday stated that officials were not certain exactly how the tap water’s use caused the infection. Monday’s announcement stated that the hospital was now using sterile water in its operating rooms.

Mycobacteria are naturally occurring and are normally not dangerous, according to Medical University of South Carolina microbiology and immunology professor Dr. Michael Schmidt. That’s because the body’s immune system can handle any such bacteria that enter through the mouth or nose.

However, Schmidt said the body is not as well-equipped to handle any mycobacteria that enter the body through unusual means like surgical wounds. “If that microbe happens to fall into us, it’s no longer in our stomach which has a tremendous amount of acid that inactivates these creatures,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “Once it gets into our sterile body cavity, it can cause disease.”

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Deal reached to eventually reopen Myrtle Beach’s region only rail line

Carolina_Southern_RailroadIt has been three years since the Carolina Southern Railroad halted operations in the Pee Dee, cutting off the Myrtle Beach area’s only rail access to the outside world. But local officials say a new settlement clears the way to eventually resume service once again.

Carolina Southern halted operations along 93 miles of rail in 2011, after the Federal Rail Administration declared some of its bridges unsafe for travel. Owner Ken Pippin had said his company could not afford the necessary repairs and failed in its application for federal grant funds.

As a result, officials in Marion, Horry, and Columbus, NC counties saw their region’s fledgling industrial sector suffer from no rail access. Manufacturers had to use less cost-effective trucks to move cargo, according to former Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Council chair Doug Wendel.

“Railway is very critical to attract manufacturing organizations… that they can ship raw materials in (and) finished products out in a very cost-effective and efficient manner,” he said.

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PEBA looks to its past to find new director

The South Carolina agency that manages public workers’ health and retirement benefits has appointed a familiar face to be its new leader.

The Public Employee Benefits Authority (PEBA) board voted 10-0 Thursday to name Peggy Boykin as its new director. Boykin had led South Carolina Retirement Systems, PEBA’s predecessor agency, under Gov. Mark Sanford. She was replaced when Gov. Nikki Haley assumed office in 2011.

PEBA was created by the state legislature as part of a 2012 pension reform law. It is responsible for managing the health insurance and retirement plans for over a half-million current and former state employees.

Boykin had been a board member since the agency’s inception. She is a certified public accountant who has been an employee at the College of Charleston.

She recused herself from the vote. Boykin will start her new job on Monday.

“Although we will miss her as a colleague on the Board, we know that she will be more valuable in this position,” PEBA Board chairman Art Bjontegard said in a statement.”PEBA is still a relatively new agency, but one that is important directly and indirectly to everyone in South Carolina, with a very significant economic impact on our state.”

Governor names new Fairfield County sheriff

Interim Sheriff Dunstan Padgett (Image: Fairfield County)

Interim Sheriff Dunstan Padgett (Image: Fairfield County)

Governor Nikki Haley has appointed an interim sheriff in Fairfield County, one day after longtime sheriff Herman Young announced his resignation due to health reasons.

Haley announced her decision Wednesday, naming Capt. Dunstan Padgett, 58, to the post. He was sworn into office later that day. Padgett’s term will last until voters choose a permanent sheriff in a future special election.

Padgett is a 26-year veteran of the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office, working in narcotics and in the patrol division. He also served 27 years in the South Carolina National Guard. While in the guard, he was deployed to Kosovo in 2004 and in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008.

In a statement Tuesday, Young said he was leaving after 22 years on the job for health reasons. He later told WIS he had been having heart troubles in recent years.

Padgett also plans to run for the office again in the special election, according to The State newspaper.


DSS says it needs 200 more employees to meet child welfare demands

DSS deputy director of human services Jessica Hanak-Coulter listens to senators Wednesday (Image: ETV)

DSS deputy director of human services Jessica Hanak-Coulter listens to senators Wednesday (Image: ETV)

Officials at South Carolina’s troubled child services agency say they need an additional 200 employees to meet a new requirement that would ease the load of overworked investigators.

The state Department of Social Services has come under heavy criticism this year after a state Senate committee’s investigations into child deaths found severe problems at the agency, including missed warning signs before child abuse deaths, strained caseworkers sometimes responsible for over 100 children, and failure to follow state law regarding the frequency of child welfare checks. Former DSS director Lillian Koller eventually resigned in June after bipartisan pressure from senators on the committee.

Deputy director Jessica Hanak-Coulter was back before the Senate General Committee on Wednesday. She told senators the agency has now decided to set a limit of 24 child cases its employees can handle at a time. The National Child Welfare League recommends 12 families (which may include more than one child per family) per caseworker. Hanak-Coulter said the agency will need 202 new employees, including 109 case investigators plus administrators and support staff.

“If we could do the ideal, then it would be no more than 24 children per investigator for those in the initial investigation period,” she told senators.

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