For hundreds of patients each year, the Affinity Health Center satellite office in Fort Mill provides a needed service – a service the center’s staff is optimistic will continue regardless what political changes may come.
“We really want to focus on, what can we all agree on, and use that as our starting point,” said Anita Case, executive director.
Case has been in her role 11 years. She was with Affinity three years prior, so she saw it transition from an HIV clinic in Rock Hill to a federally qualified health center. Affinity has a main office in Rock Hill open five days a week, with day-per-week satellites in Fort Mill and York. The Clover satellite is open twice weekly.
“Anybody can come to us,” Case said. “But our mission focus is for people whose income is 200 percent below the poverty level.”
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Affinity, formerly Catawba Care Coalition, sees 70 percent of its patients at or below poverty level. They see doctors or nurses for $5. Less, if that cost is too high.
“We don’t turn people away because they can’t pay,” Case said.
With recent, national discussion on changes to the Affordable Care Act, Case and staff are watching to see how they and their patients may be impacted. The centers are federally funded.
“We’re uncertain how it will impact us,” Case said. “Our grant funding is probably secure. Our biggest thing is if Medicaid were to change significantly, or Medicare for that matter.”
She knows how important federal healthcare decisions can be to her task. Case said many patients got insurance, Medicaid enrollment upticked and people with pre-existing conditions saw considerable improvement of their options when the Affordable Care Act arrived less than 10 years ago.
“We were able to become a health center because of the Affordable Care Act,” she said.
Along with national changes, there are local ones. On. Feb. 6, York County Council unanimously approved more than $117,000 for a consultant agreement to improve new magistrate offices in Fort Mill and Clover. Included is work to the 13,000-square-foot Fort Mill office where Affinity operates now. The medical care site likely will move to the opposite side of the office building after the magistrate, now in a Springs Street building, arrives.
Last September, the county and Fort Mill School District agreed on a sale where the county would pay $800,000 for the 120 E. Elliott St. site — formerly the school district office — for use as magistrate space. The contract included continued use of some space there by The Foundation for Fort Mill Schools and adult education programming for 25 years. It guaranteed Affinity space for three years.
Case said the county has been “very gracious about the amount of space” provided.
“We’ve come a long way. But I’d bet if you walked down the street in Fort Mill, people wouldn’t know about Affinity Health Center, and definitely wouldn’t know we’re in this building.”
Affinity isn’t the only low or no cost medical care site in York County. York County Free Clinic operates in Rock Hill. Groups like Fort Mill Care Center and Clover Area Assistance Center have long histories of helping their communities, including some medical and dental needs.
About 3,000 patients came through Affinity last year. Children made up 10 percent. That number isn’t higher because most children have some form of health coverage in place, Case said, but her group works with others who may fall between the cracks. The Fort Mill satellite served 270 total patients last year.
“It goes up and down, maybe 10 to 12 I’d say on average (per week),” said Amy Clapp, site coordinator.
Some patients rely on the facility long-term for medical care. Others come and go with flu season or occasional medical need.
“We get new patients every week, just about,” Clapp said.
Often at satellites, the care depends on what staff and volunteers are available. Affinity has 45 employees among all its sites, but also volunteers from pediatricians to dentists to specialty care providers.
“We primarily do women’s health here, and that’s because we have a women’s health practitioner that rotates through here,” Case said. “Any of our patients can go to any of our locations.”
All lab work happens at the Rock Hill site. Three new exam rooms opened recently in Clover, and within a year a new facility should come in Rock Hill. Still, there are needs. The group is looking for nurses to hire. Dental care is already booked for eight months in advance.
Along with doctors or nurses seeing patients, Affinity helps with transportation, understanding of benefits, mental health and even prescription costs.
“The medical care is the same,” Case said. “What we offer that is different is the supporting services.”
If staff there were to get political, it would be in reminder how common Affinity’s main goal is from just about everyone else in healthcare: They don’t want people, devoid of other options, using emergency rooms for care a doctor or nurse could better provide in another setting. Going to an emergency room for non-emergency care costs everyone from hospitals to patients with insurance to medical funding groups, Case said.
“That’s the most expensive way to get primary care,” she said.
Case sees community health centers as an answer to a variety of related problems. One she and staff will provide the best they can, as long as they can, for as many people locally as need it.
“It’s definitely more of a holistic approach,” Case said. “There are definitely people who have barriers to medical care. We try to remove those barriers.”
For more information, visit affinityhealthcenter.org or call 877-647-6363.