Free Medical Clinic expanding services to meet expanding needs

By Samantha Lyles, Staff Writer,

With a strict mortality rate 7.6 percent higher than the South Carolina average, Darlington County residents need to pay more attention to their health, and the director at the Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County is trying to remove barriers that prevent those in need from seeking care.

Steven Edwards, Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County executive director. Photo by Samantha Lyles

Steven Edwards spoke to Darlington County Council at their July 1 meeting and deployed some alarming data regarding local health trends.

“42 percent of our population is obese. The 10-year infant mortality rate is one of the highest in the state because a significant portion of infants born to Darlington County mothers are born before 37 weeks; that increases the likelihood of medical problems,” said Edwards.

Further, he noted that while our county has one of the lowest rates of breast cancer in the state, we have the highest mortality rate because women “are not getting screened.” Edwards said the clinic has partnered with the McLeod Mobile Mammography Unit to help patients get regular breast cancer screenings so the disease can be caught early.

The mobile unit will be at the Darlington clinic (203 Grove Street) on Aug. 29 and the Hartsville clinic (500 West Carolina Ave.) on Sept. 16. Edwards said a few appointment slots are still available, so those interested should call and reserve a time as soon as possible.

Edwards said that contrary to some common misperceptions, the advent of federally-aided health insurance through the Affordable Care Act did not end the need for low-cost or free medical care.

“Some people said they thought we had closed, or asked why we still need a free clinic with the Affordable Care Act,” Edwards said.

As rebuttal, he offered a sobering statistic: according to S.C. DHEC, 15.6 percent of Darlington County adults (about 6,200 people) had no insurance in 2018. He noted that the clinic had 551 patient visits in 2018, including 60 new patients. They referred 891 patients for lab work or X-rays, referred another 116 cases to specialists, and filled 3,110 new prescriptions (worth over $400,000) at little or no cost to the patient.

Edwards said that many uninsured people end up delaying medical care due to costs, resulting in around 5,000 “avoidable” emergency room visits and around 2,000 avoidable hospitalizations last year.

To prevent patients from falling through the cracks and skipping needed medical care, the Free Medical Clinic is expanding their eligibility and simplifying the screening process. Edwards said the clinic has halved the number of forms new patients must complete, and raised the limits on income from 200 percent above the federal poverty rate to 300 percent above.

To qualify as a new patient, you must be Darlington County resident; uninsured and not eligible for Medicaid; between the ages of 19 and 64; and from a household earning up to 300 percent of the federally-set poverty level.

At present, a household of 1 can qualify if they earn less than $37,470; 2 person households can earn up to $50,730; 3 persons – $63,990; 4 persons – $77,250; 5 persons – $90,510; 6 persons – $103,770; 7 persons – $117,030; and 8 person households can earn up to $130,290 and still qualify for care.

Patients who earn only 200% of the poverty level qualify for free medications through the Clinic’s partnership with Welvista.

Patients must provide proof of household income, a photo ID with current address, a copy of their Social Security card; DSS summary (if receiving food stamps), and a benefit statement if receiving SS or SSI.

To learn more, visit, or call the Darlington clinic at 843-398-0060 or the Hartsville clinic at 843-332-0422.

Author: Rachel Howell

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