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Economy has demand outpacing services

By Sarah L. Smith
Coastal Observer

As unemployment numbers rose this year, demand for free health services at Smith Medical Clinic doubled, leaving it in need of more volunteers and donations.

“They try very hard not to turn anyone away, but we need more resources,” said Mary Clay, a volunteer nurse. “We could use volunteers of any kind: nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and physicians.”

The clinic’s board will meet in the new year to determine its budget. When they write and approve the budget in January, any additional funds the board can find are always greeted with enthusiasm.

“The more the merrier,” said Susan Surratt, the clinic’s director.

Patient numbers rose to 4,000 this year. Surratt said most days the clinic will see patients for 90 minutes after it closes.

“We’re having more new patients show up really sick,” she said. “The new patients we’ve been seeing have lost their insurance and lost their jobs.”

“The whole economic atmosphere has influenced our increase in patient volume,” Clay said. “We see about 25 patients a day, and we really could see more.”

The clinic on the campus of Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church is open Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon and on Thursday nights from 6 to 8 p.m. It serves people on a first come, first served basis.

Services for the uninsured and the working poor include gynecology, cardiac care, pain management, minor surgery, diabetic and nutritional counseling, and other primary and preventative care. Low cost and generic medications are also available for patients with chronic and acute illnesses.

The clinic was founded in 1985 in a converted mobile home by Cathcart Smith, a retired doctor from Conway, and his wife, Nancy. The facility was expanded in 2000.

To care for uninsured patients, buy supplies and pay one full-time employee, the clinic relies on community donations, grants and its annual April fundraiser.

Surratt said the event aims to raise $100,000 each year.

“We have very benevolent people in this area,” Clay said. “They are philanthropic, and they are very generous.”

She is so passionate about the clinic because it helped give her a purpose when she moved to Pawleys Island from Long Island, New York.

“I was so sad when I left,” Clay said. “Working at the clinic gave me focus and made me happy. It let me do the kind of nursing I enjoy.”

The patients she serves are appreciative of any help the clinic can provide.

“We ask patients to donate, and some do, and some are unable to, but we now have donation cards that will be holiday and all-occasion cards for people who would like to come in and get one,” she said. “It’s a way to give the gift of health care to others.”

More volunteer health care workers could also help the clinic since Clay, like other nurses there, is retired and travels during the year.

“Some work one day a week,” she said. “If you’re a volunteer, you don’t have to be there” every day.

Clay said she’ll continue to work at the clinic as long as she can.

“Volunteerism is such a big part of the South,” she said. “When you come down here, it’s apparent how much people are in need.”

And, Clay said she’s happy to join other volunteers and ask, “what can I do to help?”


Donations to Smith Medical Clinic can be mailed to 116 Baskervill Dr., Pawleys Island, SC 29585.

To volunteer, call 237-2672.

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