The Greater Greenwood United Ministry Free Medical Clinic is recertified by the South Carolina Free Clinic Association. The clinic is also expanding its reach of service through partnerships.

This year, the ministry celebrates its 25th anniversary. It is a multi-faceted ministry owned and operated by Christian congregations of Greenwood County, who are members of the organization. GGUM operates a crisis ministry, intervention and prevention services and a free medical clinic and dental care ministry. It is located at 1404 Edgefield St. in Greenwood.

“This certification takes our clinic to the next level,” said Rosemary Bell, executive director for Greater Greenwood United Ministry. “We now know we have best practices in place for quality and safety of care. We have been certified for a number of years, but the Free Clinic Association has really revamped its certification program. We had to make sure all of our policies and procedures were up to the standards, for things such as protecting our healthcare workers from blood-borne pathogen exposure, evacuation plans and more. Our clinic growth has been coming. We wanted to maintain certification.”

Through a partnership with Self Regional Healthcare, the clinic provides a free monthly mobile health clinic to McCormick County. And, GGUM plans to expand to Saluda County as well. Additional preventative health services through GGUM include free diabetic education and group classes.

“We don’t want to get started with expanding our service area and then not be able to deliver,” Bell said. “In some areas, we are talking with pastors of churches to see if we could set up a couple rooms once a month, on site for health screenings and clinics, if their are times Self Regional’s mobile health unit is not available to us. We have the providers. We just need the space.”

With some of the most vulnerable populations medically under-served, Bell said GGUM is striving to help not just when people are faced with sudden, serious medical problems.

“We want to get people’s health under control and get them on the path to prevention,” Bell said. “Then, they are certainly not in the emergency room as frequently. One of the goals with our clinic is keeping people out of the emergency room.”

Anthony Price, executive director of homeless shelter the Greenwood Pathway House, said preventative health measures are making a dramatic difference for the men, women and children sheltered there already.

Greenwood Pathway House has 29 beds for men, two of which are for overflow, 16 beds for women and children and a cold-weather shelter in a separate building. Price said the campus is poised for expansion.

“Incidence of flu has gone way down this year,” Price said. “We have a sign-up sheet now and have shelter clients come to the GGUM free clinic to get vaccinated. It’s made a noticeable difference from last year...Last year, we would have five or six people at a time with flu, clients and staff. I’ve seen one person with the flu this year that I know of and his was very short-lived. Plus, we are seeing fewer visits for emergency room because of things that can now be handled through the free clinic. We’re also getting people referred for services with specialists that they could not get on their own.”

Additionally, GGUM has started doing wellness screenings at Pathway House to check cholesterol numbers and diabetic education is being offered.

“Healthcare for a homeless person is four times more expensive than for other populations, because they almost never get preventative care,” Price said. “By the time they get to a doctor, the issues are so big that it costs four times as much to get them well. With preventative care, it’s cheaper when you do have to go to the doctor to be treated and you are keeping people out of the emergency room for primary care. Healthcare for the homeless is always a great struggle.”

Collaboration between Greenwood Pathway House and GGUM began with conversations, Price said.

“It’s great when we as two nonprofits can sit down together and figure out how we can help each other,” Price said. “Their whole clinic team was on our campus at 6:30 in the morning to do health screenings for all of our clients in October. All of our clients are getting flu shots and health screenings when they come in.”

GGUM’s free clinic provides a host of services ranging from women’s health, diabetes education, wellness screenings, provision of free pharmaceutical medications and specialty referrals, as well as dental extractions. The free clinic partners with local Lions Clubs to provide eye screenings that check for five different diseases and they offer free eye exams and eyeglasses. This year, a community garden was planted to make fresh produce available for clinic clients, too.

“There is limited participation by dentists in our program, but if each dentist in our community took just one of our patients, we would have extractions covered,” said Donna Trapp, GGUM free clinic coordinator. “It’s up to participating dentists if they want to do more than extractions.”

The free clinic can take up to three dental extraction patients per week now, Bell said.

“We have such a low level of participation by dentists in our program that it’s at a critical point,” Bell said. “It’s especially critical for older patients because most dental care is not covered by Medicare.”

Price said Pathway House had a client who they thought did not know how to read, but the man needed prescription glasses.

“If you can’t pay for the eye exam and you can’t pay for the glasses, what do you do?” Price asked. “You just fake it, but you can’t see. So you don’t drive and that impacts whether you have a job.”

Price said once the man got the eye exam and prescription he needed, things changed for the better, dramatically.

“We got him down here to the free clinic and in touch with the Lions Club and we got him free glasses, “ Price said. “It changed his life. He got a job. I often see people who are unemployed and homeless because of health problems. Now, they can come to the free clinic and get screened for things such as high blood pressure and diabetes and attend classes on how to manage their health and get medication, if it’s appropriate.

“When they are feeling better, they are getting jobs and moving out of our shelter,” Price said. “There are many who are homeless because they have health issues and no insurance and they lose everything. This partnership with Greater Greenwood United Ministry is a huge blessing.”

Contact St. Claire Donaghy at 864-943-2518.