State budget includes $250K to expand Smith Clinic services
Gretchen Smith got a phone call last month that every nonprofit director dreams about.
State Rep. Lee Hewitt had secured $250,000 in the state budget for the Smith Medical Clinic, where she is the director.
“That kind of money can make a significant difference in what we do and how many patients we serve,” Smith said. “It’s an amazing honor and responsibility to make sure that we spend that money in a manner that will help the absolute most people we can help.”
It wasn’t exactly a surprise though. Hewitt had reached out to Smith in January and asked her to come up with a wish list for the clinic, including prices.
“He said, ‘dream big,’” Smith said. “He’s such an amazing advocate to the clinic. … [He] is a real fan of the work and understands the needs of the county and believes that we serve a really important need. I’m so grateful for that.”
Hewitt was friends with Dr. Cathcart and Nancy Smith, who founded the facility on the campus of Holy Cross-Faith Memorial Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island in 1985. Gretchen Smith, who became director in 2021, is not related to the founders.
“What they do for the community is so good and positive,” Hewitt said. “Having clinics available, having medical attention available, is just very, very key.”
Hewitt serves on the health care subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. “About 70 percent of the state budget passes through that subcommittee,” he said. “A lot of it is federal dollars.”
On Smith’s wish list were $90,000 to hire a mental health professional, $85,000 to expand services in Georgetown, $45,000 to hire a patient navigator/care coordinator and $30,000 to upgrade the telehealth system and train employees to use it.
Expansion to five days a week last year allowed the Georgetown clinic, which opened in 2018, to serve more than twice as many people. But the need is ongoing.
“With over half the patient population in the south and west part of the county, it’s really important for us to expand down there and do as good a job serving patients down there as we do here in Pawleys,” Smith said. “The patients love being able to see people closer to home because it’s hard to get transportation. You like to feel like this is your home, your medical home.”
“A lot of their patients come from the western portion of Georgetown County where there’s not that much medical services available to them,” Hewitt said. “Having that clinic where they can come over and get the attention they need is so, so important.”
The clinic is starting to focus on what post-pandemic health care in the county will look like.
During the pandemic, the health care industry, especially free clinics with rural roots, realized how important telehealth was.
“Telehealth opens up the whole world to places like this,” Smith said. “This money will help us figure out how we’re going to move forward.”
Along with connecting with homebound patients, telehealth allows clinic doctors to consult with specialists at Tidelands Health or MUSC.
“It can really help patients here and not have [them] go to that speciality clinic 100 miles away,” Smith said. “If they do have to go, the provider down there has already gotten some of their information and has discussed it with their physician here or nurse practitioner so that they’re better equipped to handle whatever happens down there.”
Smith envisions the patient navigator helping people connect with other nonprofits that help the needy in the county, and explaining how the process will work if a patient is referred to a specialist.
“I would love to be able to have someone who can sit down and really get to know the patient and have the provider make notes about what needs there might be and then have somebody be able to address some of those needs.”
Although it was a $250,000 line item under the Department of Health and Human Services in the budget, Smith won’t know if the clinic is getting all of the money until she gets the paperwork from the state in September. There are strict rules about what you can, and can’t, use the money for.
Smith would like to use some of the money to cover a nurse’s salary over the next four years, but is not sure whether the money has to be spent before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“I’m super excited and there’s no way that it’s not going to be a game-changer for us, no matter what,” Smith said.
“What I look foward to is they get the money and they implement those programs. If we show success and continue to show that need, I can help them continue to expand those services,” Hewitt said. “The winners are the residents of Georgetown County, but also the businesses because they’ve got healthy workers. Whoever [the clinic] is serving, if they’re healthy and getting the medical attention they need, then we as a county are better off for it.”