Free health clinics receive $35,000 boost

Family Resource Centers that give free health care to children in York County got a financial boost from the state Tuesday to help provide medicine to families that might not be able to afford it.

The Early Learning Partnership of York County received a $35,000 state grant for its medical outreach programs, which include free clinics at Family Resource Centers in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Clover and York serving children through age 18 who do not have medical insurance or Medicaid.

The grant will be used to help pay for the cost of prescriptions for children seen at the clinics, said Donna Wooldridge, executive director of the Early Learning Partnership of York County.

According to a 2007 Kids Count study, 1 in 5 children in York County is not covered by health insurance or Medicaid. That number is expected to increase, causing many families with diminishing budgets to ponder which expenses they should pay first, said Teresa Creech, community liaison for Early Learning Partnership of York County and coordinator for the Family Resource Centers.

"You can imagine with power bills and food, prescriptions will be last on the list of priorities for some," Creech said.

Ninety percent of children receiving medical care at the Family Resource Centers come from families where at least one parent is working, and they don't qualify for Medicaid, Creech said. The other 10 percent have recently been laid off from work and have not applied for or received Medicaid, she said.

Last year, the resource center's free medical clinics treated 1,300 York County children, Wooldridge said. The medical clinics are staffed by volunteer Rock Hill pediatricians Martha Edwards, Susan Start and George Bonham.

The Rock Hill clinic has been especially helpful to Selena Souslvaga's 4-year-old daughter, who has a speech impairment. Spanish speaking Souslvaga, who spoke with the assistance of the center's interpreter, Geisel Cutrone, said the clinic's doctor referred her daughter to specialists to help her speech.

"I began seeing immediate results," said Souslvaga, 32.

The money the Early Learning Partnership of York County received is part of a national settlement reached this year with Caremark, one of the nation's largest pharmacy benefits management companies. The company, which processes prescription drug claims and negotiates pharmaceutical volume discounts for employer and government health plans, was accused of deceptive business practices because it allegedly encouraged doctors to switch patients to different brand-name prescription drugs by saying that the switch would save patients and/or health plans money.

South Carolina received more than $600,000 from the settlement. The money will be used to benefit low-income, disabled or elderly consumers of prescription medicine, said S.C. Attorney General Henry McMaster, who presented the check Tuesday to the Early Learning Partnership of York County.

In addition to free medical clinics, the Early Learning Partnership offers services to families such as adult education, parenting programs, preschool programs and access to other community resources through its four York County resource centers, Wooldridge said.

Souslvaga, who is participating in the English classes offered at the Rock Hill Family Resource Center, said learning the language has helped her communicate more effectively in the community. "I have a long way to go, but I've accomplished so much," Souslvaga said.

The goal of the Early Learning Partnership is to break the cycle of poverty and empower and transform the family, Wooldridge said.

The resource centers do this by preparing preschool children for school through health care and educational programs and by educating the family, Wooldridge said.

"The education level of a mom is the best predictor of the education level of the child. When we prepare them it has a direct impact on the child," Wooldridge said.

A 1995 Kids Count study indicated that 25 percent of York County first-graders were not adequately prepared for school. In 2007, the study found that number decreased to 11 percent.

Andrea Patterson, 24, is participating in the GED program offered by the Rock Hill Family Resource Center. While she is in class, her three children -- ages 1, 2 and 4 -- attend preschool.

Patterson said the preschool classes have helped her children.

"My 4-year-old, she was ready for kindergarten already," she said.

Making an appointment

The Early Learning Partnership of York County’s Family Resource Centers are located in Rock Hill, Fort Mill, Clover and York. A free medical clinic is available for children through age 18 who do not have medical insurance or Medicaid. Appointments are available from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

For appointments, call 803-322-6636.