Martha Brown says the Orangeburg-Calhoun Free Medical Clinic is a blessing. It gave her access to quality health care she wouldn’t have been able to afford – and with friendly service.
She’s a new patient at the clinic, which has been serving those who can’t afford health insurance and don’t qualify for government assistance for the past 10 years.
“This is my first time being here, and I think it is a very important clinic to go to when you don’t have the money to pay the doctor bill. I’m very pleased with it,” Brown said.
She said she appreciated the “very good” service.
“They treated me well. A lot of people don’t have the money to have the insurance, and it’s a blessing to be able to come here and get service done. They don’t treat you no different. Whatever they have to do, they do,” Brown said, smiling.
The Orangeburg-Calhoun Free Medical Clinic opened at 860 Holly St. in Orangeburg in August 2009. It relocated to 141 Centre St. in 2016.
Dr. Bert Gue is a retired internist who spearheaded the opening of the clinic, which serves patients with absolutely no type of health insurance who live below 200% of the federal poverty level.
He is a past recipient of the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest civilian honor, among other awards. The clinic has also received its share of awards, including the Secretary of State’s Angel Award for exceptional service.
Gue’s wife, Jeanne, is a clinic board member. She finds it amazing the clinic has lasted a decade.
“I didn’t think we’d make three years. Grants have dried up. In this day and age, the grants are very hard to find, and we’d love to find a professional grant writer,” Gue said.
She said the support of the community and volunteers, including a 16-member board, helps sustain the clinic’s role.
Churches, fraternal and sororal organizations and civic clubs, including the Lions and Rotary clubs, are among those who have contributed to the clinic’s success.
“I think we have an outstanding board. Everybody on the board works hard to keep us up and going. And there’s a lot of prayer. It’s amazing that I’ll pray for something and darn if it doesn’t pop up in the next week or so,” Gue said.
She added, “And also I think it is because we are local and people know us individually. I also think the newsletter helps a lot, too. One of our biggest income sources is from memorials and honors that are published in the newsletter.”
Clinic Executive Director Cindy Goodroe said the “huge” need for the clinic’s services also keeps it going.
“And I think this community is a very giving community. That has really amazed me. The amount of donations that come in here is really unbelievable to me,” Goodroe said, noting the Regional Medical Center’s provision of in-kind services such as lab work and X-rays is also valuable.
“A lot of free clinics around the state do not have that same support from their local hospital at all,” she said.
The clinic is home to nurse practitioners who care for patients, along with medical office assistants and a plethora of dedicated volunteers who help to make clinic’s role in providing patients with basic medical services, plus disease prevention education, possible.
“We have new patients come in every day filling out applications. As soon as they bring back that information that’s required to qualify them, we set them up for an appointment. On average, we see anywhere from 400 to 500 patients a year. The past few years have been closer to 400,” Goodroe said.
Patients are mainly from Orangeburg County.
“They have to live in Orangeburg or Calhoun County. We treat mainly chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension. We do have mental health patients, but we refer them to mental health (Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center),” Goodroe said.
She credits the Columbia-based nonprofit pharmacy, Welvista, for helping the clinic keep medication expenses down.
“We enroll our patients in that and pretty much all of them can get all of their medicines through Welvista. That’s been a huge help. If for some reason they need a prescription that’s not on the formulary, then the individual pharmaceutical companies that make the drugs have patient assistance programs we’ll enroll patients in,” Goodroe said.
She said “if worse comes to worst,” however, the clinic has a fund that board members contribute to every month that helps patients pay for medication.
Orangeburg’s Grove Park Pharmacy also works well with the clinic in “giving our patients a discount if a patient has to buy a $4 medicine or something like that that we just can’t get for them,” Goodroe said.
Nurse practitioner Lynn Glenn said she marvels at how lives have been turned around at the clinic.
“I think the beauty of it is that a little bit goes a long way. Pretty much the typical person that comes in here is at their lowest point. They usually come in crying, don’t have any money, been out of work, don’t have their medicines. I mean, they’re at a really low point,” she said.
Glenn added, “It’s not that we’re doing any kind of magic or anything really extraordinary. It’s just kind of helping them get back on their feet again. Seventy-five percent of my job is not medicine. I’ve basically become a social worker.
“You have to learn that on the job. And I think a lot of it is just helping people find those resources that are out there because they just don’t know how to find them, or just encouraging them.”
Glenn said she is pleased at how lives have been transformed.
She recalls fighting to get one lady into gynecological treatment for her cancer.
“She’s doing really great. This is really the best job I’ve had because you see things like that come out at the end. It’s a good thing,” she said.
A 10th anniversary gala is planned for Nov. 12 at the First Baptist Church Family Life Center. The gala will include a silent auction at 5:30 p.m., followed by a supper at 6 p.m. and music at 7. Tickets are $50.
The clinic's hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday, with the office closed from 1 to 2 p.m. for lunch.
For more information, visit ocfreeclinic.com, call 803-534-7200 or fax 803-534-8899.