TREAT WITH CARE: Free clinic begins 26th year of serving the community
Patients who are enrolled at Mercy Medicine quickly find that the free clinic’s mission is far more than just to treat the injured and prescribe medicines.
“Caring is a primary part of our mission,” says Executive Director Dr. Wayne Jackson. “We care about our patients and I think that is evident to them once they get to know us.”
The need for the clinic is evident not only in the fact that its doors have been open for a quarter of a century, but in the number of patients it serves. In 2018, the clinic saw 413 individual patients, totaling 2,000 separate visits. In 2019, the clinic treated or referred 156 dental patients for services.
“Here at the clinic our services are always free,” said Jackson. “If they are a referred to another physician for treatment there may be some cost incurred, but never here at the clinic.”
The clinic, located at 500 S. Coit St., is a not-for-profit organization that operates without any federal and very little state funding, allowing its staff to share their faith and pray with patients. Funding for the clinic’s nearly $400,000 annual budget comes from corporate and individual contributions as well as grants. Nearly all, or about 97.7 percent, of the clinic’s funding goes directly to patient care.
According to Jackson, about 19 percent of its funding comes from the United Way of Florence County.
The clinic does have a small paid staff, including a core group of family nurse practitioners and registered nurses.
Jackson said the clinic would not be able to operate or offer the services it does without the assistance and in-kind services of local medical facilities – McLeod Regional Medical Center, MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center, and HopeHealth.
“Every year they provide us with thousands of dollars in in-kind services such as x-rays, lab work, and diagnostics,” said Jackson. “We could not do what we do without those partnerships.”
Jackson explained that by offering services to the clinic, the medical facilities are hoping to cut down on the number of non-insured patients seeking treatment at local emergency rooms.
“It’s kind of a win-win situation,” said Jackson.
The partnerships with the local medical centers allow the clinic to be a teaching platform for resident physicians.
Through another partnership with Francis Marion University nursing students and nurse practitioner students do their rotations at the clinic.
The clinic also relies heavily on volunteers. Its 130 volunteers logged in nearly 4,500 hours in 2018.
Mercy Medicine serves both Florence and Williamsburg counties. It offers free medical assistance to low income, uninsured adults without healthcare benefits. Patients must first meet certain criteria before being seen and agree to continue to be treated only at the clinic.
To become patient at the clinic, a person must be a resident of Florence or Williamsburg counties; have an income no more than twice the federal poverty level of $12,500; not have Medicare, Medicaid, VA benefits or adequate private health insurance; and complete an application during eligibility screenings on Monday mornings from 8:30 to 11 a.m. It takes about four days for a patient tot be enrolled and seen by a doctor.
In addition to its medical services, the clinic also offers its patients free medications through WellVista.
Jackson pointed out that the clinic also offers dental services, with three volunteer dentists seeing patients three or four times a month.
Family Nurse Practitioner James Grzech has worked at the clinic for several years. He said patients who graduate out of the clinic (can no longer qualify because the get social security and Medicaid) are saddened and disappointed when they have to go.”
“Over time we form attachments with our patients,” said Grzech. “Unlike doctors who work in their own practice, we have the luxury of time. We don’t have to rush patients in and out. We get to know them and they get to know us.”
Grzech recalled one patient, a lady who had been treated at the clinic for severe back problems. He said she was distraught when finding out that she could no longer come to the clinic. “It’s not just about the medicine and the treatment,” said Grzech.
“It’s about knowing that someone really does care.”
Visit Mercy Medicine Free Clinic at www.mercymedicine.org.