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Free medical clinic set to open in summer

The new Palmetto Volunteers in Medicine Clinic at 235 S. Herlong Ave. in Rock Hill will offer medical treatment to individuals who have no medical insurance. From left, Dr. Hartwell Hildebrand, Bill Wolfe, chairman of clinic's board of directors, and Pat Wolfe, a volunteer coordinator, stand in front of the building.
The new Palmetto Volunteers in Medicine Clinic at 235 S. Herlong Ave. in Rock Hill will offer medical treatment to individuals who have no medical insurance. From left, Dr. Hartwell Hildebrand, Bill Wolfe, chairman of clinic's board of directors, and Pat Wolfe, a volunteer coordinator, stand in front of the building.

Going to the doctor soon will be a comfort enjoyed by York County's uninsured.

A free clinic, Palmetto Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, is scheduled to open in Rock Hill this summer for adults who don't have money, insurance or access to Medicare.

The clinic, on South Herlong Avenue across from Piedmont Medical Center, will provide basic health care free to those without insurance who meet income requirements, said Bill Wolfe, chairman of the clinic's board of directors and a retired educator.

"They'll treat colds, flu, earaches -- what people go to the family doctor for," Wolfe said. "If they require specialized services, we would refer them to a specialist. And we have some specialists who volunteered to help."

Dr. Hartwell Hildebrand; Wolfe; his wife, Pat; and others from Oakland Baptist Church have been working toward this clinic for almost two years.

"Hopefully, all the pieces of the project will come together soon," said Hildebrand, a retired physician who will be the clinic's medical director. "There's a big need for this in York County. A high percent of people that don't have health insurance can't afford to buy it."

In 2000, more than 21,000 York County residents were without health insurance, the Census bureau reports. A study done for the clinic said more than 20 percent of York County residents, or about 41,000 people, don't have health insurance, Wolfe said.

The clinic will be housed in a building donated by the hospital. Hildebrand said PMC is paying the rent and for renovations that should be done in April.

If all goes well with renovations and training, Hildebrand said the facility will open in June.

Volunteer medical professionals will see patients while other volunteers will handle clerical work. More than 100 physicians, nurses and others have signed up.

"It's doctors and nurses and lay people that volunteer, and they do all of the work in the clinic," Wolfe said. "No fees are charged to the patients."

The clinic will start small and will be open for treatment two days a week, Wolfe said. Hours will vary between mornings and evenings. The goal is to be open all week for medical service.

Specialized procedures likely won't be provided because of the lack of equipment and space, Hildebrand said.

The clinic will be funded through donations to a nonprofit organization they created and by area health systems. PMC and Carolinas Medical Center and Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte are supporting the clinic in various ways, said the Rev. Bob Shrum of Oakland Baptist Church.

A fundraising campaign for grants and community support will start soon, Wolfe said.

The Rock Hill facility is modeled after Volunteers in Medicine Clinic in Hilton Head and is one of 27 other free clinics in the state, including Good Samaritan Medical Clinic in Chester.

John Hart, executive director of Good Samaritan Medical Clinic, said the Chester facility has seen more than 2,000 patients without insurance since it opened in 2002.

The clinic has about 900 regular patients and provides some sort of service daily, Hart said.

"We don't have physicians in here all day, every day," Hart said. "We have evening clinics three times a week where we see the largest number of folks."

Good Samaritan has an annual budget around $300,000, completely taken care of by grants and donations, Hart said.

Hildebrand said he got the idea several years before he retired after visiting the Hilton Head clinic.

"I came away very impressed by what they were doing," he said. "It gave me an idea that I'd like to be part of that someday."

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