Free Medical Clinic marks 20 years of serving Darlington County
By Samantha Lyles
The Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County is celebrating its 20th anniversary, but even after two decades spent providing free primary care to local citizens, many county residents don’t know it exists or understand all the ways the clinic can help improve health outcomes.
“There are tons of people in this community that don’t know we’re here,” says Stephen Edwards, Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County executive director. “How can we get them care if they don’t know we exist?”
Edwards explains that the clinics in Darlington and Hartsville serve adults 19 to 64 who cannot afford medical insurance and do not qualify for federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
“We provide free primary care, free prescriptions, and free or reduced-cost labs and X-rays,” says Edwards, who joined the clinic in January 2019.
The origins of the Free Medical Clinic are closely linked to the mission of its Grove Street neighbor, The Lord Cares. Founded in 1996 to provide food, kerosene, and financial assistance to Darlington County residents, TLC found that many of their clients also had unmet medical needs. After reaching out to local doctors and nurses, a plan to establish a small mobile clinic took shape and several local physicians, led by Dr. Joe Matthews, indicated they would volunteer their services.
Though it took a few years, this medical ministry grew into an actual health care facility, thanks largely to a generous donation of property by Teddy Harrison. The clinic opened its doors in July 2000 and held a dedication ceremony that September. Twenty years later, the Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County has expanded to include a clinic in Hartsville (opened in 2006), and provides over 230 uninsured county residents with free primary medical care.
To qualify for services, individual prospective patients must be employed and have verified income no greater than 300 percent of the federal poverty level (the income scale adjusts when dependents are included).
Over the past two years, Edwards has worked to improve services by building partnerships with other agencies and organizations. For instance, a collaboration with Pee Dee Mental Health allows the clinic to take on patients unable to find work due to a mental illness.
Another new partnership with S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation allows those who cannot work due to a physical disability to receive Free Medical Clinic services while working to rehab their injury and find suitable employment.
By teaming with Pee Dee Regional Transportation Authority, the clinic now ensures that patients can get free bus rides to any testing or medical appointments with specialists in Florence or Hartsville.
Edwards says that more programs are in the works, including efforts to improve dental services, screen more patients for colon cancer, and increase screening for breast cancer – a disease where Darlington County has the highest fatality rate in South Carolina.
The Free Medical Clinic recently hosted the McLeod Mobile 3D Mammography Unit and offered free screenings to patients, but only half of those who registered actually showed up for testing. Convincing patients to take a more active role in their health outcomes is a goal for Edwards, as is spreading the word about all the services available at the clinic so more patients can be checked out and get a head start on treatment.
In 2019, the clinics filled 7,251 new 30-day prescriptions for patients, welcomed 87 new active patients, referred 1,076 labs and x-rays, sent 97 patients to specialists, and conducted a total of 601 patient visits. All of these services are provided at no cost to the patient.
Funding for the clinics comes from a variety of sources, including community donations and some support from the state and local businesses, but all of those sources are depleted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To celebrate their 20th anniversary and help fund operations, the Board of Directors of the Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County invites the public to attend a banquet on Friday, Sept. 25, from 7- 10 p.m. at the Darlington Country Club. Tickets are $75 per couple and $40 per individual, and sponsorships are available for $500.
Also on Sept. 25, the clinic will stage the second annual Heroes For Health Classic golf tournament at the Darlington Country Club, with a noon shotgun start and awards at 4:30 p.m. The cost is $100 per player or $400 per team.
All proceeds from these events will fund Free Medical Clinic of Darlington County services. To learn more or to register in advance for these events, visit www.fmcdc.org or send inquiries to FMCDC, 203 Grove St., Darlington SC 29532.