The York County Free Medical Clinic – which treats some of the area’s neediest residents – is expanding its care to diabetics, who make up about one-third of the clinic’s 400 patients.
The clinic, which provides treatment and medication at no cost to patients with minimal or no income and health insurance, is funded through donations.
Thanks to a $200,000 donation from Physicians Choice Laboratory Services of Rock Hill, the clinic is now offering more education efforts to diabetics, free meters and test strips to check their blood sugar levels, and syringes to administer insulin, and most importantly, eye care.
Diabetics should have their eyes dilated and examined once a year, looking for leaking blood vessels in the back of the eye. Unchecked, these leaks can lead to glaucoma, cataracts and ultimately loss of sight.
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Dr. Sam Spoto of Charlotte, the father of the clinic’s director and nurse practitioner Janet Selz, provides the eye care at the clinic.
Spoto helped the clinic acquire the necessary equipment from a practice that was closing. He comes to the clinic on Oakland Avenue near Winthrop University every other Thursday.
“The eyes are a window to how diabetic treatment is working,” said Spoto, who plans to retire after 36 years as an optometrist.
Many of the clinic’s diabetic patients have not had regularly scheduled exams, he said.
Eye exams are offered to all patients. Those without diabetes have their vision tested and the clinic helps patients get eyeglasses at low or no cost.
For diabetics, Spoto dilates the eye and checks for glaucoma, cataracts and other eye problems.
Eye care is critical for diabetics, he said, because a high blood sugar level can affect vision, causing a person to become more nearsighted. High blood pressure, often associated with diabetes, also can affect vision, he said.
Damage to the small blood vessels in the eye is called diabetic retinopathy. Laser treatments or surgery might be required in advanced cases. Surgery can slow or stop the progression the condition, but it’s not a cure, since diabetes is a lifelong condition.
When needed, the clinic coordinates with Rock Hill Eye Center for advanced vision care.
The education, free supplies and vision care are all part of the clinic’s effort to create a “holistic” approach to health care, said Tony Fountain, chairman of the clinic’s board of directors.
“We just don’t want to be a clinic that hands out medicine,” he said.
The Physicians Choice donation is a “catalyst for our donor base,” Fountain said, and the company is encouraging others to support the clinic.
The clinic is expecting to have handled about 2,500 patient visits in 2014, with the patient load increasing by at least 500 next year.
For most who use the clinic’s services, the only alternatives are to go to an emergency room or not get care, said Selz, the executive director.
The average cost for a visit to a free clinic is $60 to $70, she said, while the per-patient cost for a hospital emergency room is about $1,600 per visit.