Greenwood area women ages 18 to 64 who are uninsured and without Medicare or Medicaid are now able to have free gynecological services through the Greater Greenwood United Ministries Women’s Clinic.
The GGUM Women’s Clinic opened March 18, with gynecologists Drs. John Eichelberger and Julius Leary seeing several patients that day.
The Women’s Clinic is open 9-11:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month. The next women’s clinic day is April 15.
This is an expansion of GGUM’s free medical clinic for those in Greenwood County without medical insurance or Medicaid.
Administrators with GGUM, Rosemary C. Bell, executive director and Donna M. Trapp, clinic coordinator, say 44% of their free medical clinic patient base is female.
“Dr. Eichelberger has been volunteering here many, many years on Thursday evenings,” Bell said. “We had a small grant application come across our desks for women’s health services and we thought it was time to seriously consider doing this.”
“Eichelberger talked to Dr. Leary and the two decided, being former partners in a practice, that they would be the ones to start this,” Bell said. “And, we are still partnering with Self Regional’s mammography department quarterly, to have screenings.”
GGUM’s Women’s Clinic is offering pap smears, mammograms, urinalysis, sexually transmitted disease treatment and a number of screenings, including blood sugar levels, to help diagnose diabetes, and more.
Then, if additional follow-up is needed with an internal medicine and/or primary care specialist, that can also be scheduled through GGUM’s free medical clinic.
“A lot of people now have lost jobs and insurance and they cannot afford a medical visit,” Eichelberger said. “They first have to feed themselves and pay the rent.”
Leary said on the opening day of the women’s clinic he and Eichelberger treated several patients, including a hearing-impaired woman and several patients whose first language is not English.
Edith Pineda, a translator with GGUM, says language is often a barrier to getting medical care.
“In addition to concerns about legal status, are concerns about language barriers,” Pineda said. “Language is the biggest barrier. But, we are taking care of them. We are doing pap smears, taking blood pressures and determining A1C numbers. ... We have a diabetes educator and it’s kind of eye-opening for some to realize the traditional Hispanic diet can be a problem for diabetes. ... A cultural thing also is not considering birth control as an option. ... I am so happy to help them and to have this clinic.”
“Patients have said they are very grateful to have this women’s clinic, whether it’s for a normal exam or something more perplexing, such as abdominal or pelvic pain or tumors,” Leary said. “It’s important that we can get them scheduled for annual screenings. ... There’s a lot of discomfort and suffering that goes on when you don’t have access to care.”
Bell noted GGUM is a Christian church-based nonprofit.
“We see all kinds of stuff in here and we can pray with you, too,” Bell said. “That is so big for some people.”
Word of mouth and social media posts have shared information about GGUM’s Women’s Clinic.
“We’re trying to get on the front end of health with prevention services,” Bell explains. “With the amount of time we want to spend with patients, about 10 patients per clinic day is what we are aiming for with the launch of the Women’s Clinic.”
Before the GGUM Women’s Clinic launch, Trapp said it was often difficult to get free clinic patients in to see specialists for gynecological health if those patients were financially unable to pay for a medical specialist visit.
“We had a patient who previously experienced chronic and debilitating bleeding,” Trapp said. “When we were finally able to get services for her, her life was changed.”
A GGUM supporter donated $3,000 anonymously for the woman to receive a surgical procedure known as endometrial ablation. The surgery stopped her chronic bleeding and pain and enabled her to stop taking numerous medications previously required to manage her condition, Trapp said.
“It’s crucial that we now have gynecological referrals here, and we don’t have to pay for those,” Trapp said. “One of the many issues we face as a free clinic is trying to get patients to different practices if they require a specialist.”
Through the entire novel coronavirus pandemic, Trapp said GGUM’s free medical clinic has continued to see patients.
In fact, GGUM’s new patient numbers have increased by 35% during the pandemic.
“That’s definitely due to job loss, unemployment and no health benefits,” Bell said. “And, our pharmacy numbers were up by 3 percent.
“It’s been super important for us to keep patients out of the ER if it’s not an emergency situation and to make sure they are able to get their medications and medical supplies,” Bell said. “We actually had a walk-in women’s clinic patient our first day. She saw the sign out front.”