South Carolina’s public health agency has seen a significant strain due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A system over-tasked and at times unprepared to tackle the day-to-day operations of dealing with one of the worst health crises in recent history.
State lawmakers from both sides have criticized S.C.’s Department of Health and Environmental Control response to the virus and are now calling on dismantling the agency. A slow distribution of testing supplies, along with the agency’s refusal to release detailed data on early cases and now a lack of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is the reasoning behind a restructure.
Dr. Edward Simmer, the first medical doctor to lead the agency in over 30 years, will look to depoliticize the agency into a bipartisan source for healthcare. “Obviously, there are political aspects to what DHEC does. My focus is to be as apolitical as we can be,” Simmer told the Associated Press.
Some lawmakers are concerned there is not enough oversight of the DHEC. They say the public health department’s board of directors and special interest contributors haven’t done enough to protect citizens at-large. The concerns over lack of transparency have now been taken to Gov. Henry McMaster, who decided to open the state for business after a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The difference for South Carolina compared to other states is the state’s public health initiatives are handled by the same officials dealing with environmental regulation. Since the 1970’s DHEC has been responsible for water regulations, trash distribution, along with hospitals and vaccine distribution.
According to AP, “Senate President Harvey Peeler is ready to split DHEC apart, bundling public health duties with the state’s mental health department and funneling environmental permitting operations to other state agencies. McMaster has said he supports breaking up DHEC as well.”