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Smith Medical Clinic: Growing patient rolls prompt new drive for funds
By Jackie R. Broach
If the Smith Medical Clinic is going to continue meeting the needs of the community, it has to diversify its funding.
That’s the conclusion the nonprofit’s leadership reached as it examined the growing need for services, and it’s the reason behind a new membership drive the clinic will launch Monday with a mail campaign.
The campaign will ask supporters to become annual Patient Partners members by donating funds toward the clinic’s mission of providing free health care to low income, uninsured adults in Georgetown County.
Memberships start at $250, which provides a patient with medical care for a year, and increases to $500, which provides comprehensive annual eye exams for 10 patients, and $1,000, which provides a family’s medical care for one year.
Donors can become charter members by committing to $3,000, $5,000 or $7,500 over a three year period.
“I know it’s a tough economy right now, but there has always been a great deal of need in Georgetown County and somehow people have always rallied together to meet that need,” said Anne Faul, the clinic’s executive director. “We want to let more people know who we are and what we do so we can find those people for whom our mission really fits how they want to give back to the community.”
The clinic has been in operation since 1985 and is funded by private foundations, corporate funds and individual contributions. It receives no federal or state assistance.
It treated 2,100 patients in 2010 who made about 6,400 visits to the clinic.
“This year we’re tracking toward about 2,500 patients,” Faul said.
About 50 new patients normally seek care at the clinic in a month, but now new patients are numbering 60 and above a month.
“We’re turning people away every day because we can only see about three or four new patients a day,” Faul said. “We’re having to tell them to come back tomorrow and get here at 8 a.m.”
The clinic opens at 9, but there’s always a line at the door, because repeat patients know there’s a limit to how many people can be seen. New patients are limited to only a few a day, because they have often delayed getting medical care for some time and as a result their health problems are more complicated and take longer.
“We’re hearing time after time about patients who lost their job a couple of years ago and were able to hold onto their insurance for a while. Now, they’ve exhausted their life savings and they finally had to let the insurance go and either haven’t been able to find another job, or they found one, but it’s part-time or seasonal and they don’t qualify for benefits from their employer,” Faul said.
“These are people who have always had a job and always had insurance. I can’t tell you how many people tell me they never thought they would be in this situation. They don’t really know the system, because they always had a good job, and because they’re embarrassed or were hoping things would get better, they just kind of put things off. By the time we see them, they’re usually pretty sick. They’re here out of desperation.”
In trying to keep up with the demand for services, the clinic’s board looked at a number of options, including the types of fundraisers that have been successful for other nonprofits, said Dreema Clarke, who serves on the board. A membership drive seemed the logical choice.
A donation to the clinic, which operates with more than 130 volunteers and 12 part-time staff members, is a good investment, according to Faul. Between volunteers and partnerships, including one with the Georgetown Hospital System that allows the clinic to provide testing and lab work for free, the clinic is able to provide $4 of medical care with every $1 donated.
“That’s a really promising return on your investment,” Faul said. “Also, the only other place they can go is the emergency room and a visit there costs the community $1,600. A visit here is $55, so it’s much more economical and it’s appropriate. The emergency room shouldn’t be taking care of ear infections and diabetes and sinus infections. They should be taking care of true emergencies.”
By keeping people in good health, the clinic is also helping them to be productive members of the community, allowing them to work and take care of their families.
“Health care in the United States has become such a political issue, it’s easy to forget that over the noise being generated in Washington and Columbia, it’s a real issue of life and death to our most vulnerable friends and neighbors,” Clarke said. “For those who must worry over more than the cost of deductibles and co-pays, a medical crisis may mean they can no longer work, pay their rent or buy food for their children.”