I had the privilege of leading the team that planned and executed S.C. Mission: Midlands 2014. Much was accomplished for our brothers and sisters who don’t have the advantage of health insurance. But volunteers, clinical and lay alike, also continued to learn about themselves and the organizations they represented as we worked shoulder to shoulder for 18 clinic hours on a first-come, first-served basis at the State Fairgrounds. And they demonstrated that, working together, we are a stronger community.
The 535 patients were served regardless of their place of origin or ability to pay. Some waited short periods of time, and some waited up to eight hours for services that are very hard to access without insurance. Services such as eye exams, pap smears, mammograms and prescriptions were readily available. There were great stories of sacrifice, but none more heart-wrenching than Mrs. Sarah, a 62-year-old woman who walked four miles (with a cane) in the early morning darkness to secure a space at the front of the eye-care line so she could receive a pair of badly needed glasses.
Our volunteers witnessed stories of heartache and compassion. Many now better understand the challenges that confront people without access to health care.
So what are the answers? I am not sure that anyone has them all, but there is much that can be done. Our three local hospitals — Lexington Medical Center, Palmetto Health and Providence Hospitals — and community organizations such as United Way, Free Medical Clinic, Eau Claire Community Health Cooperative, Welvista and the Benefit Bank can continue to work to assure medical homes for uninsured adults to prevent chronic illnesses from becoming crises that tax our resources. We also can focus on ancillary programs such as women’s services and dental and eye care. In four years of offering the Mission projects, we have seen the sacrifices that our friends will make to receive these high-demand services.
I am encouraged as I see hospitals set aside competition to work together to serve our community. I see promise when clinicians volunteer their precious time to serve patients who cannot afford to visit their offices. I have hope when I work with people representing all corners of our community to deliver a life-line of services.
Columbia is a great community, and we do many, many things well. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. If we want to accomplish even more, let’s look for new ways to work better and smarter together.
Chair, Mission Midlands 2014
President and CEO, United Way of the Midlands