Health Care

July 30, 2013

Free health care effort returns to Fairgrounds, but without dental

The annual two-day effort to provide free health care keeps fine-tuning the process of moving hundreds of patients through a makeshift clinic.

The annual two-day effort to provide free health care keeps fine-tuning the process of moving hundreds of patients through a makeshift clinic.

Set for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2-3, at the State Fairgrounds, SC Mission 2013 promises to be the smoothest yet – in part because organizers have learned from miscues, but also because one large component won’t be available.

For the first time, no dental procedures will be offered. While that’s a big loss for many in need of dental care, it will make the wait for medical and eye care for adults shorter and more comfortable, according to Barbara Willm, leader of the organizing committee.

Cool, relaxing waits would be a big change from the initial SC Mission effort in 2011, when hundreds of people were left standing in line for hours outside Carolina Coliseum in summer heat. The effort moved to the State Fairgrounds last year.

“The biggest difference between the first year and the second was the venue,” Willm said. “There was no waiting around outside in the heat. We had air-conditioned tents, which was not ideal but better than the year before.

“This year, it’s even better because they’ll be waiting inside the (air-conditioned) Ellisor Building.”

The crowds also should be smaller. Last year, 1,500 of the 2,795 patients received dental care. There were periods late each day when there were no waiting lines for medical care.

This year, they expect to help more medical patients. For the first time, free pap smears will be among the offerings. Doctors who treated women last year were stunned that more than 50 percent never had had a pap smear, Willm said.

The line for eye care also should move more quickly this year, with six lanes of examination equipment compared to the five in use last year.

The event is aimed at those in need. Willm said that includes the 19 percent of the population that’s uninsured as well as the underinsured. SC Mission Midlands organizers know poor insurance coverage or high deductibles prevent some people with chronic problems from visiting a physician, and they want to help those people, too.

“We will take care of anyone who shows up, anyone with a medical need,” said Willm, vice president of community relations at Lexington Medical Center.

But they will steer anyone with dental problems to the limited free clinics available locally or the S.C. Dental Association’s Dental Access Days, held Aug. 23-24 this year in North Charleston.

The Dental Access Days event last year was combined with SC Mission Midlands, leading to the high volume of dental care that weekend. But the dental group prefers to rotate its free effort to different regions of the state each year.

The SC Mission Midlands effort offered dental services in 2011 without the built-in volunteer-recruiting draw of Dental Access Days. Many dentists couldn’t carve out time for two major volunteer efforts in a month. Only a few helped at SC Mission Midlands, and hundreds of dental patients were turned away.

This year, rather than cobble together limited dental services, the SC Mission Midlands leaders decided to focus on medical and eye care. An extra emphasis will be on health maintenance. Stages will be set up in the Ellisor Building waiting area for professionals to make presentations and answer questions about stroke, smoking cessation, cholesterol control and other issues.

SC Mission Midlands 2013 consumer tips

When: Care will be provided 6 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m.-noon Saturday.

Where: The State Fairgrounds, at Assembly Street and Rosewood Drive. Enter the parking lot at Gate 6.

Who can go: Anyone age 17 or older.

No overnight parking: If you want to be among the first in line, the parking lot opens at 5 a.m. each day.

What about the heat? The only outdoor waiting will be for those who arrive before the gates open. Once through the turnstiles, everyone will be directed to the waiting area in the air-conditioned Ellisor Building.

Avoid the crowds: The busiest times last year were early in the morning. If you are seeking medical care, there were shorter waits later in the day last year. The eye care services remained busy throughout the day last year, so you probably should arrive early to ensure eye care.

What about food? If you arrive during one of the service bottlenecks, you might be in for a long wait. Bring your own snacks. There are water fountains and rest rooms in the Ellisor Building.

Does eye care include free glasses? Yes, but you will have to pick them up the following week at the county health clinic.

What about prescriptions? Some free medications will be available with prescriptions on site.

What else is offered: Mammograms, pap smears, physical therapy, occupational therapy

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