COLUMBIA, SC (WSPA) — After more than 30 years of service, Dr. Edward Simmer retired from the military in December.
He said he was browsing open jobs on the state’s website when he saw a posting for the vacant Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) director position.
The state agency hasn’t had a permanent director since June.
Tuesday morning, Dr. Simmer appeared before the Senate Medical Affairs Committee for a confirmation hearing. DHEC’s board nominated Dr. Simmer for the job in late December.
State senators questioned Dr. Simmer about priorities if he were to lead the agency. They also asked him about any changes he would’ve had made to the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Dr. Simmer said he would have had a statewide appointment scheduling system operational once vaccines began arriving in South Carolina.
He said, “I think one thing I would have done was try to develop that sooner and ensure we had an effective way for people to make appointments as quickly as possible.”
During his confirmation hearing, Dr. Simmer said he would also like to make sure information coming from DHEC is clear, easy to understand and accessible. He said there appeared to be some confusion over how many vaccines hospitals and other providers would receive and who was included in Phase 1-A of the state’s vaccination plan.
He said, “I think looking at the communication processes between DHEC, the hospitals and the public is another thing I’d like to take a look at as part of the rollout.”
Dr. Simmer said some of his other priorities include getting the vaccine out to all South Carolinians who want one as quickly and fairly as possible. He also hinted at reexamining the way South Carolina is currently allocating and distributing vaccines. Right now, it’s based solely on population.
He told lawmakers, “It makes sense to use a model that considers risk and considers the amount of people living in the county who are eligible for the vaccine at that time as we make decisions.”
Senate Medical Affairs Committee chairman Senator Danny Verdin (R-District 9) said he believes having a permanent director at the helm at DHEC would improve the agency’s response to the pandemic.
He said, “As what was alluded to on the Senate floor last week – having a quarterback, a signal caller in place, give us the confidence to know the team is under a steady hand. It is going to accentuate the delivery of service to our people. We will see the best days in the pandemic before us.”
Some senators asked Dr. Simmer, who is a psychiatrist, about his experience with environmental issues. He told them he had some experience with these issues but would rely on subject matter experts in the agency to help guide him.
The Senate Medical Affairs Committee voted unanimously to give Simmer’s nomination a favorable report. Sen. Verdin said he expects a full vote on Dr. Simmer’s nomination as soon as Thursday.
If he gets the green light, Dr. Simmer told lawmakers he could get to work right away.