Nonprofit of the Month: Clemson Free Clinic

Mar 31, 2015 | 0 comments

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Last week, the Foundation’s intern, Jessa Mitchell, sat down with Sandy Smith, Executive Director of the Clemson Free Clinic. We wanted to share this interview with all of you as part of our first-ever Nonprofit Spotlight of the Month!

Jessa: What does the Clemson Free Clinic do?

Sandy: We provide free primary healthcare and pharmaceuticals to the eligible, uninsured people that live in Clemson, Central, Six Mile, and Pendleton. Something I’m really excited about is that we were selected by the Public Charities division of the Secretary of State’s office as a 2014 Angel organization. We are really proud of this! Angel organizations are those who show exceptional service to the causes they represent, an outstanding percentage of expenditures towards that cause in relation to overall expenditures, and exhibit exemplary compliance with the Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act.

As current healthcare policy stands now, our patients cannot afford to pay to be seen by primary care physicians because they are uninsured. However, by law, they must be seen if they go to an emergency room. The problem with this is that when people have chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, they need to regularly see doctors and periodically receive medication changes. It is simply not feasible or approximate to go to the emergency room every time you need medication adjustments.  It’s also financially impossible for our patients. For example, a visit that costs us $75 here at the clinic (if we charged) would end up costing a patient $2,000 at an emergency room.

Jessa: How does someone qualify for services at the clinic?

Sandy: In order to “qualify” for our services, you can’t be enrolled in any health insurance. You must be 16 – 64 years old — that’s the cutoff because once you’re 65, you enroll in Medicare. Our patients are at or below 100% of the poverty level, meaning that they are, by the federal definition, in poverty. An interesting note is that the Affordable Care Act did not impact our services at all, because the ACA only covers people at or above 138% of the federal poverty level. Our patients are below that line, so they still don’t qualify for health insurance under the new policy in our country.

Jessa: How is the Clemson Free Clinic operated?

Sandy: This community has been very generous. All the equipment and everything here has been donated. Occasionally, we will receive grants. Most of our funds come from our two fundraising events: Dine with the Docs, a dinner event and Trio, a wine and cheese event in partnership with the Clemson Arts Center. We are fortunate to have 10 physicians, 3 nurse practitioners, community and student workers who are all volunteers. They rotate on a schedule: we work around their convenience.

To give you an idea of the scope of our services, in 2014, we had approximately 500 total patient visits. We filled 3500 prescriptions: we have about 75 prescriptions filled every Wednesday night, when our pharmacists are here.

Jessa: Could you share with us one of your favorite stories or experiences?

Sandy: One of my favorite stories is also one of the most dramatic stories I’ve experienced here. There was a woman who grew up in a foreign country–she is an American citizen–but she had a common neurological condition that causes seizures. This woman had not been able to go to a doctor for over 15 years. When we met her, she was 50 years old and she was having seizures 3-4 times per week.

She was on a medication that she had gotten in her home country, but it didn’t work. She couldn’t work because of her condition, and so she had no money to pay for health insurance. She was eligible for the clinic. We got her in to see the neurologist, and he was able to put her on the medication she should have had all along.

She hasn’t had a seizure since then, and that was 9 months ago. She once told me, “Now I’m not in a fog anymore… I can think, I can finally work.” The medicine she’s on is just a basic medicine. This story is the reason why we exist. When you’re sick, and you can’t get your medicine, you just don’t feel well. It’s a vicious cycle of sickness and poverty. You feel so much better when you’re on the right medicine.

Jessa: What are the biggest needs of the clinic? How can people help?

Sandy: It always takes people to help us in order for us to help others.  If you’re a donor, it’s like you’re standing right beside us, helping them with us. Pharmaceuticals are our biggest expense. We don’t have every medicine in the world here, and sometimes we need to order some special drugs from pharmaceutical assistance programs for things like insulins. People can help us  simply by giving financially. We are a 501(c)(3) organization, so all gifts are tax deductible. About 93% of our donated funds go directly to helping patients.

Jessa: What do you want people to know about the free clinic?

Sandy: I want people to know that we are here, so that when they run across folks who don’t have insurance, they can tell them about us. I also want people to know that Clemson is a very caring community. There are a lot of nonprofits in this town for its size. It’s tangible how people are so concerned about social issues. It’s also critical that our patients know people want us here, that they care.

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About this Nonprofit

The Clemson Free Clinic was established by concerned citizens and medical professionals to meet the needs of the medically underserved in Clemson, Central, Six Mile and Pendleton. The Clinic works together with the Joseph F. Sullivan Center, Clemson Health Center, An-Med Health, Oconee Medical Center, Mountainview Imaging, and area volunteers to provide free care to eligible patients.

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