COLUMBIA, SC — Bethany Reynolds of York arrived outside the S.C. State Fairgrounds gate at 4 a.m. Friday, eager to be one of the first to get free health care at SC Mission Midlands 2013.
In an indication of how much smoother the annual mission event started this year, Reynolds was through the turnstile at 6 a.m. and had received both medical and eye care by 7:30 a.m. Last year, there still was a line in the parking lot to get in the gate at 7:30 a.m.
“It’s really a blessing,” Reynolds said of the event. “I went to a doctor recently, and just to be seen was almost $400.”
Reynolds works as a certified nurse assistant but doesn’t have health insurance. Last year, she worked in a security detail with the S.C. State Guard at SC Mission. She came back for help this year.
The difference in the mood this year was remarkable. Last year, the mission event was combined with the S.C. Dental Association’s Dental Access Days, and dentists treated 1,500 of the 2,795 patients seen at the two-day event. This year, Dental Access Days will be in North Charleston (Aug. 23-24), and no dental care is offered at SC Mission.
Travis Myers of Columbia missed that news. He had a wisdom tooth removed last year, and he arrived early this year because another wisdom tooth was giving him trouble. “I thought they had dental,” said Myers, who went ahead and had a physical since he was already in the gate. “I do appreciate the help,” he said.
After a slow start, the process started rolling around 6:30 a.m., with 30 people at a time led from the Ellison Building waiting facility to the makeshift clinics in the Cantey Building. Volunteers at eight stations processed the patients and moved them on to short waits for medical or eye exams.
Because the dozens of dental chairs took up more space, people last year waited in a large tent. Despite large fans, the tent grew warmer as the day dragged on. This year, there’s enough room that all of the waiting is in air-conditioned buildings. About 200 patients were in the Ellison Building at 6:30 a.m., and there were 203 volunteers already at work.
Betty Austin of Kershaw waited a long time last year for medical care. This year, it looked like a shorter wait. “I’m just happy they’re doing it,” Austin said. “It’s a shame there are so many people hurting right now, but it’s a blessing there are things like this to help.”
Health care professionals volunteer their time, and community-minded companies provide the financial support for the event infrastructure. While the target is the 17 percent of the population with no insurance, anyone 17 and older was welcome.
Shirlacia Richardson of Columbia is a student at S.C. State and has student insurance, but that doesn’t include eye care. “I heard about this yesterday and decided to come,” she said.
Richardson is a biology major who hopes to go on to medical school. “Then I can be out here helping one day to give back,” she said.
By 8:30 a.m., there were only 36 slots still available for eye care on Friday, but there was no line or waiting for medical care. If last year is any indication, people could arrive in the afternoon and get medical care.
And the volunteers will be back from 6 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday.