Florence hospitals maintain top grades

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Two Florence hospitals ranked among the best in the state of South Carolina, according to a recent study.

The Leapfrog Group, an independent, national not-for-profit organization founded more than a decade ago by some of the nation’s leading employers and private health care experts, published its most recent Hospital Safety Scores.

Since 2012, the group has published the report cards twice a year—once in the spring and once during fall—taking into account errors, accidents, injuries and infections.

Based on these criteria, both McLeod Regional Medical Center of the Pee Dee and Carolinas Hospital System in Florence were awarded an A.

Both hospitals maintained A’s from spring 2018 grades that were published in April.

Carolinas Hospital System chief nursing officer Costa Cockfield said the organization was pleased to receive the accolade and continues to make safety a top priority.

“Carolinas Hospital System is pleased to have earned an A grade in the Leapfrog update as it recognizes the safe, quality care we provide to our patients,” Cockfield said. “We know that a Leapfrog Safety Score of an “A” can only be accomplished through purposeful, ongoing collaborative work among physicians, clinical and support staff. The systematic delivery of safe and reliable care requires relentless communication that safe care is priority. We continue to be very proud of our employees’ unwavering commitment to patient safety and exemplary care of our patients.”

C. Dale Lusk, M.D., chief medical officer and vice president for medical services of McLeod Regional Medical, said the recognition comes from the hard work the center puts into achieving safety for its patients.

“Quality is a core value for McLeod. Through the leadership of a medical staff committed to reviewing data and implementing robust process improvement methodology, we strive to continually improve the care we provide for the patients we serve,” Lusk said. “This recognition is evidence of the endless work that takes place every day to create a culture of quality and safety for our patients. We compare ourselves to the nation’s best in receiving measurable results and we remain dedicated to providing the highest quality medical care possible to our region.”

Other Pee Dee hospitals included in the study were Carolinas Hospital System- Marion (B); McLeod Health Cheraw (B); and Carolina Pines Regional Medical Center (C). Carolina Pines fell from a B in the spring to a C in the fall. Neither Carolinas Hospital System- Marion nor McLeod Health Cheraw was scored in the spring of 2018.

Of the 46 hospitals that were graded in South Carolina, 14 received an A. The state ranked No. 26 in the nation with 30.43 percent of hospitals receiving an A. The top-rated state was New Jersey (56.72 percent) while Delaware, North Dakota and Washington, D.C., tied for last with no hospital receiving an A grade.

The Pee Dee graded as the top region in the state, with 40 percent of its hospitals receiving A’s and another 40 percent receiving B’s. The region also had the lowest number of hospitals with five.

The Upstate region was second with 38.5 percent of its 13 hospitals receiving an A; the Grand Strand was third with 33.3 percent of its six hospitals receiving an A; the Midlands fourth with 25 percent of 12 hospitals receiving an A; and the Lowcountry last with 20 percent of 10 hospitals receiving an A.

Fifty percent of Midlands hospitals received a C grade while 50 percent of the Lowcountry region received a grade of B. The Upstate had another 38.5 percent of its hospitals receive C grades.

Leap Frog graded more than 2,600 hospitals nationally. Thirty-two percent earned an A, 24 percent earned a B, 37 percent a C, 6 percent a D and just less than 1 percent an F.

Locked Inn offers guest an ‘escape experience’ in Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Locked Inn- whose website describes it as “a Live Escape Room Experience” – moved locations in March and has enjoyed its new space with which it has expanded its offerings.

The business began with a 1,000-square foot space with two rooms inside the Gould Business Incubator on the campus of Florence-Darlington Technical College.

Last week, Locked Inn joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce to hold a ribbon cutting for its new location at 214-A Dozier Blvd.

For a birthday celebration, brother and sister Maureen Allen and Gavin Smith went to Charlotte, where they tried out an escape room. Allen said she fell in love with the idea and asked her brothers to join in on the venture of bringing an escape room in Florence.

“This has been a great family adventure for us as our whole family has come together to give new ideas and scenarios for the business,” Allen said. “It’s such a fun and exciting time for folks to enjoy.”

Escape rooms are live adventure games in which players are “locked in” a room and have to use elements of the room to solve a series of puzzles to escape.

With the new location, Locked Inn has expanded to four themed rooms. Each room is fully interactive and players use their intellect to find clues and solve puzzles in an attempt to escape in 60 minutes.

The rooms include Lakewood Lodge, Submerged, Bellingham Asylum and Sacred Ruins.

Locked Inn hosts both corporate and group events. Those interested can book a room ahead of time at the business’s website- lockedinnsc.com. The business also has a party room that can be rented out for birthdays, anniversaries and other types of celebrations.

People’s Choice award winners for Kickin’ Chicken announced

By: Staff Reports

FLORENCE, S.C. – The Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 Kickin’ Chicken and Chili Festival was held Oct. 19 and drew residents from Florence and even tourists from Indiana to downtown Florence.

Part of the event included online voting for a People’s Choice award. Voting for that closed on Oct. 20 with more than 300 votes cast.

Winners of those contests are Jay Phillips of Clayton Homes, who was the Best Wing winner, and David Gowdy with Vivid Network Solutions. He was the Best Chili winner.


David Lowe Insurance joins Florence Chamber

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — David Lowe Insurance joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday to celebrate the business’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

David Lowe Insurance, at 507 W. Cheves St., has been in Florence for more than 40 years and at its current location for more than 30 years.

“Florence is home,” Lowe said. “It’s a great atmosphere to raise a family and a good business climate.”

Lowe said the company, which was established in 1979, primarily focuses on health insurance, but also does several other types of insurance for both individuals and groups.

Lowe said he has enjoyed getting to work with his son, Derek, for the past four years at the agency.

“He’s doing a great job,” Lowe said. “His first year, he was a top 20 producer of BlueCross BlueShield individually for the state. I’m very proud of him.”

Lowe said joining the chamber will give the business a chance to meet more businesses and gain more exposure.

“Derek was point man on that,” Lowe said. “It gives us a chance to get more exposure and to work with other businesses around the area. The Florence Chamber is primarily geared toward businesses and that’s a big part of our business, as well.”

Heaven’s Hope aims to build a special home for children

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Heaven’s Hope joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday to celebrate the organization’s new chamber membership with a ribbon cutting.

Heaven’s Hope, a Pee Dee based nonprofit organization, is looking to construct a home that specializes in the treatment of medically fragile children, which would be the first of its kind in the state of South Carolina.

Rachel Lee, executive director of the organization, said families with medically fragile children in South Carolina are forced to make a decision: Either learn to operate all the intricate equipment that their child needs to live or let their child live in a hospital.

Heaven’s Hope wants to give families an alternative option.

“I would love it for children to have a safe place,” Lee said. “These children are exposed to so much pain and so many unknowns. I would love to create this home where this is their happy spot. It’s a place where they can blow bubbles and put stuff on the walls of their room. A place where they can just be a kid.”

The mission for Heaven’s Hope is “to provide a loving place for medically fragile children to call home that meets their emotional, spiritual, medical, physical, social and educational needs.”

Lee said being a part of the chamber will help the organization network with other businesses and organizations in the Pee Dee.

“In the past, we have seen the chamber of commerce do some events and we’ve seen the benefit of what the chamber has to offer to local businesses and even small nonprofits like us,” Lee said. “We made the decision that this was something we wanted to be a part of. It’s something bigger than ourselves.”

The organization will host a fund-raising event on Saturday, Nov. 17, called the “Swamp Fox Highland Games and Celtic Festival.” The festival will take place at The Columns Plantation and all funds will go toward the initial start of the home.

Lee said the festival is a celebration of Celtic culture and history. There will be kid’s activities, vendors, cultural demonstrations and athletic events.

South Carolina students surpass national average on SAT and AP exams

By: Briana Rivas

South Carolina students surpassed the national average on SAT and Advanced Placement exams, according to the College Board.

The results were released Thursday, showing that South Carolina students scored 15 points above the national average on the SAT and “exceeded the nation” on eight out of the top 10 tested subjects of Advanced Placement exams.

“These results illustrate the importance of an education system that is based off multiple measures, said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. “While there is still work to be done in other areas, the data from these two rigorous national assessments prove that South Carolina students can surpass their peers nationally and that our schools are moving in the right direction.”

Keep reading for more specific statistics from the College Board:


  • A total of 22,141 South Carolina students or 50% of the class of 2018 took the SAT assessment, a 5.7% increase from last year’s class.
  • The SAT relies on two main components, Evidence Based Reading and Writing (ERW) and Math. The Essay section is optional. Scores range from 400 to 1600 overall with 200 to 800 coming from ERW and 200 – 800 coming from Math.
  • South Carolina’s overall mean score was 1064, fifteen points above the national mean of 1049. SC’s mean ERW score was 543, fourteen points above the national mean of 529. The state and national math mean were the same, 520. 44% of SC test takers met both ERW and Math College and Career Ready Benchmarks.
  • African American student participation accounted for 26% of all test takers which more than doubling the national participation rate of 13%.

Advanced Placement (AP)

  • South Carolina saw growth in all three major areas of AP participation and performance.

• The number of students taking exams increased 5.7% to 32,641.
• The number of exams increased 6.6% to 52,115 exams.
• The number of AP exams with scores of three or higher increased 10.1% to 30,427 exams.

  • AP exam scores of three indicate a candidate who is qualified to take college-level courses. Scores of four indicate someone who is well-qualified and a five indicates someone who is extremely well-qualified. Colleges and universities often grant class credit and use AP scores of three or more to place students in higher course levels.
  • South Carolina students outperformed the national average in percentage of exams with scores of three or more on eight of the top ten most popular Advanced Placement tested subjects.
  • 7,795 South Carolina students were named AP Scholars, meaning they scored three or higher on three or more AP exams. This is an 8.6% increase from 2017.

Click here for all South Carolina test results.



Education leaders speak at Florence Chamber breakfast, see improvements ahead

By: Lauren Owens

FLORENCE, S.C. – Leaders of three educational institutions told a breakfast audience Wednesday that they are moving forward with initiatives to improve education in the Pee Dee.

Francis Marion University President Fred Carter, Florence-Darlington Technical College Interim President Ed Bethea and Florence One Schools Superintendent Richard O’Malley spoke on the status of education in Florence at the 2018 Greater Florence Legislative Breakfast.

With just under 4,000 students enrolled at Francis Marion and the addition of multiple programs in the past year, the university is serving the Pee Dee region as it was created to do, Carter said.

“Within the last 15 years, we’ve grown with the region and we’ve served the Pee Dee, and for the last three decades, we’ve tried to meet the needs, the demands and expectations of the state and most especially all of you,” Carter said. “If you’ve liked what you’ve seen so far, you’re going to love the next 20 years.”

Carter talked about new programs the university has started in the past few years, such as a master’s of teaching in education, sports management, sports marketing and a doctoral degree in nursing.

Carter also talked about a 154-acre land donation that will be announced in the next six months that will house a fresh water ecology center for the university

The center will give ecology and environmental sciences a chance to start looking at real water issues with in the Pee Dee River Basin, according to Carter.

Carter said the growth of the university has been made possible by partnerships within the community, such as the university’s partnership with the city of Florence and the Doctors Bruce & Lee Foundation for the downtown portions of campus. He also said local legislative representatives have played a part in this growth as well.

Bethea, who has worked for Florence-Darlington Technical College for nearly 30 years, said he wanted to be an action-oriented interim president.

“I’ve spent most of my life and work at Florence-Darlington Technical College,” Bethea said. “Because of that I was uninterested in house-sitting the president’s job. I just didn’t want to merely try to keep the seat warm for the next guy.”

Bethea said he brought the college back to focusing on fiscal responsibility, strategic planning and being a workforce-development and technical-education institution.

Florence-Darlington Technical College is looking at ways to ensure students have all of the training they need to succeed after college and a mentoring program to improve student retention.

The college is actively working on grants to help fund programs to further educational programs, Bethea said.

Florence-Darlington Technical College also is working on partnerships with companies, such as Wyman Gordon for internships and Clemson University for a virtual reality simulation that could decrease the use of pain medications.

O’Malley, who has been in Florence One Schools for just a few months, talked about the growth of the district and the new initiatives this year.

“As we begin to set this path of where we want to go as a district, we see our future is bright as well,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said that moving forward the district has set its vision to improve on communication, student achievement, security and better pay for faculty and staff.

The district has already started moving toward this vision, O’Malley said.

Recently, the district announced a grant for $3 million for art education, as well as an inclusive model for special education. The district also hired Doug Nunnally as the director of school safety and security, to ensure the schools are adequately secured.

On Nov. 12, the district will launch Imagine Forward, the 1-to-1 technology initiative that will give each student access to a personal technology device. O’Malley said the initiative will be complete in the next three years.

O’Malley said Florence One School will be the first district to do a comprehensive pre-K-12 1-to-1 initiative. He said the initiative won’t be just putting a device in the student’s hands, but changing the way students are taught.


Mobile Communications extends reach to Florence

By: Andrew Boardwine

FLORENCE, S.C. — Mobile Communications America joined ambassadors from the Greater Florence Chamber on Tuesday for a ribbon cutting.

Michael Johnson, general manager, said Mobile Communications America acquired Myrtle Beach Communications on July 2.

“It was a natural fit,” Johnson said. “Mobile Communications just continues to grow. Our focus in Florence will be on video surveillance, in particular.”

Mobile Communications America is the largest service provider in the country for mobile two-way radios and public safety accounts. The company has 40 locations in the Southeast and provides a number of services, including equipment repair, engineering services, maintenance contracts, system management, FCC licensing and more.

The company handles commercial accounts and does video surveillance and warning sirens for school districts, governmental bodies and large commercial businesses, including factories and plants.

“I’m excited about the community,” Johnson said. “As large as they are, Mobile Comm still gets community. They want to be a part of the areas they are in and look for places where they can get involved.”

Johnson said he was excited to extend to the Florence market. He said school districts, new construction sites and major plants are the company’s core customers. Mobile Communications focuses on commercial business.

“The big change for us is the resources,” Johnson said. “We have engineers on staff and the transition has been good for us. We think chambers of commerce are important to the community and with us coming to Florence, we felt it was important to join the chamber.”