2020 was a challenging year for everyone. COVID-19 has strained our country’s health care facilities, creating a number of incredible challenges. Many medical systems are facing surges in COVID-19 cases, equipment shortages, bed occupancies, and employee fatigue.

Fortunately, the Columbia VA Health Care System has been well positioned throughout the pandemic to provide needed support and assistance to the communities it serves, when possible.

On Jan. 13, the Regional Medical Center (RMC) in Orangeburg, S.C., reached out to the Columbia VA. The RMC had an urgent need for an ultra-low (-70) freezer to store COVID-19 vaccines. Within 24 hours, the Columbia VA answered the call to support the request. It loaned one of its several ultra-low freezers that was not being used.

Working with the Columbia VA’s pharmacy and logistics services, staff quickly boxed the freezer (pictured above) for transport to its new temporary home.

RMC pharmacy team members next to the newly installed vaccine freezer lent by the Columbia VA.

VA’s Fourth Mission

VA’s primary mission is to help Veterans. In times of national emergency, it also provides support to national, state and local government agencies and organizations. Emergency support is VA’s Fourth Mission.

“In these challenging times, partnerships are more important than ever,” said David Omura, director and chief executive officer for the Columbia VA. “The Regional Medical Center contacted us with a need and we happily fulfilled their request. Whenever we can assist our community, we will do everything we can to support them as we did with the loan of this freezer.”

The RMC staff appreciates the assistance and is grateful for what this loan means to its community.

“The Regional Medical Center of Orangeburg and Calhoun Counties is thankful for the Columbia VA’s partnership in combating the pandemic,” said Matthew Hinkle, vice president of operations for the Regional Medical Center.

“Now, RMC will be able to order larger quantities of COVID-19 vaccines and store them for a longer period. This has effectively increased the potential for a greater number of people to be quickly vaccinated. We thank the Columbia VA for their community outreach to improve the health care for rural South Carolinians in the midlands.”

Having the essential equipment to store vaccines is critical to its administration.

Before this acquisition, RMC received thawed COVID-19 vaccines from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC). That vaccine had a short, refrigerated shelf-life of just five days.

The loaned, ultra-low freezer will provide RMC with the needed storage to safeguard the COVID-19 vaccines SCDHEC is distributing as well as to thaw them according to their own schedule.

Columbia VA had several of the necessary freezers

The Columbia VA planned early. It was well prepared to receive either of the FDA’s emergency-use authorized vaccines. And it ensured it had several of the necessary freezers to store the vaccines at the medical center.

To date, the Columbia VA has vaccinated nearly 3,000 Veterans and front-line employees. It will continue to vaccinate our Veterans according to CDC and VA guidance.

In addition to this freezer loan, the facility has provided COVID-19 testing support to VA Medical Centers in the Southeast as well as to state Veterans’ Homes in Alabama and South Carolina.

The Columbia VA has also donated more than 117,000 items of personal protective equipment, such as masks, gowns, and COVID-19 testing kits to Veteran’s homes, SCDHEC, and the Catawba Nation in Rock Hill – all in support of the fourth mission.

“We have tried to go above and beyond when it comes to not only serving Veterans, but the people of South Carolina,” said Omura. “The Columbia VA will continue to provide assistance to those who need it whenever possible.”


Dillon J. McConnell is a public affairs specialist for the Columbia VA Health Care System.

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