If the soul of Camden resides in its communities of faith, surely its heart sits at 110 C East DeKalb St., the home of the Community Medical Clinic of Kershaw County, known far and wide as “The Free Clinic.” The outpouring of love at the Clinic has proven to be a transformative force, continuously healing wounds of body, mind, and spirit.
The Clinic is a 501(c)(3) non-profit authorized charitable organization that provides healthcare to the uninsured residents of Kershaw County. Today, one in six South Carolinians has no health insurance, a lack with profound consequences. South Carolina now ranks 48th in the nation in health status, a crisis affecting quality of life and economic competitiveness.
“That’s a problem for all South Carolinians,” Susan Witkowski, clinic director and co-founder said. “People without health insurance are more likely to delay needed medical care until they become very ill. They are more likely to go without screenings or preventive care. Often, emergency rooms are a primary -- and not always appropriate -- source of care.”
In 2007, South Carolina’s hospitals provided $1.3 billion in services for which they were not paid. Businesses with insurance are paying increasingly higher premiums to underwrite the cost of care to the uninsured. High costs are forcing many small businesses to stop offering health insurance. Today, only 33 percent of private sector employees with fewer than 50 workers offer insurance to employees.
“Some of our supporters have the mistaken notion that the Affordable Care Act (known as “Obamacare”) has solved the health crisis in our community,” Witkowski said, “but in some ways we now face worse challenges. The cost of medication, for example, has skyrocketed. As one example, the antibiotic Doxycycline, once $4 for a week’s usage, now costs $76. Drug companies that used to donate about 80 percent of drugs, now donate about 15 percent, thinking patients are getting free drugs. For many, the Affordable Care Act isn’t so affordable.”
Co-founder Dr. Alice Brooks, now officially retired from her practice, and continuing to work with clinic patients, remembers how they started in 1998, in a 900-square-foot space in the United Way with 35 volunteers and a $5,000 donation from the Kershaw County Medical Center, now KershawHealth. In the beginning, the clinic was open from 5 to 7 p.m. three days a week. Today, the clinic, open 40 hours a week, sees 700 active patients with about 3,500 visits a year. KershawHealth, the primary partner of the clinic, provides diagnostic resources.
Patient referrals are available to community specialists representing: surgery, nephrology, pulmonology, dermatology, cardiology, endocrinology, pathology, radiology and others. Services include breast and cervical cancer screening for women aged 47 to 64; diabetes education; physical therapy; dental referrals; chiropractic; and counseling for short term needs such as depression, with more advanced mental problems referred to Mental Health. In response to the growing Hispanic/Latino population in Kershaw County, the clinic provides interpreters and bilingual volunteers. In fulfilling its mission in a typical year, the clinic has provided medications valued at over $1.5 million. For every dollar donated, patients have received $12.50 in services. A $100 donation covers over 200 visits with a medical provider. To donate, check out wwww.cmcofkc.org.
Our healthcare delivery system is complex. The Community Medical Clinic attributes its success to partnerships. One of these is AccessKershaw, a program providing case management services linking the uninsured to local health professionals. The second and new partnership is Livewell Kershaw, which will expand the clinic’s mission by providing mobile services to the North Central area residents in Cassatt, Westville, Heath Springs and Boonetown, among other communities.
Like many non-profits, the clinic depends upon volunteer relationships, and is always looking for caring individuals to help in the following areas: schedule appointments, screen for eligibility, order medicines, enter data, scan records or serve on fundraising committees. The clinic also needs medical volunteers: physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, dentists, pharmacists, chiropractors and social workers. Volunteers can decide on the amount of time they wish to offer. If you are interested, call the development director at 713-0806, Ext. 403.
As mayor, I have more than once heard some residents complain that “there’s nothing to do,” in Camden and Kershaw County, usually referring to insufficient restaurants and entertainment. Please spread the word that an army of saints is working in the field, feeding the hungry, helping the homeless, and binding up wounds. They need all the help they can get. Again, to volunteer or to donate, call 713-0806.