August 1, 2008

Free Medical Clinic in Spartanburg, S.C., Awarded $75,000

By Robert W. Dalton, Herald-Journal, Spartanburg, S.C.

Aug. 1--Like many charitable organizations trying to ride out the tough economic times, St. Luke's Free Medical Clinic is facing increased financial pressures and increased demand for its services.

"We suffer any time there's a downturn," said Georgia Vaughn, the clinic's executive director. "And it's not only falling contributions, but we're also getting more patients."

State Attorney General Henry McMaster came to Spartanburg Thursday to give the clinic a boost. A $75,000 boost.

The money was a portion of the funds the state received from a deal McMaster and 27 other attorneys general reached with Caremark Rx to settle claims the company engaged in deceptive business practices. South Carolina's share of the settlement was more than $491,000.

McMaster said the AGs could give the money to organizations that provide medical care to low-income patients who do not have health insurance. He has criss-crossed the state this week handing out checks.

"St. Luke's is exactly the kind of place we had in mind," McMaster said. "We were happy to receive their application, and we're happy to provide money to help them continue the great work they do."

St. Luke's saw 1,449 patients last year and provided about 7,600 in-clinic visits, Vaughn said. The clinic relies on its 431 volunteers -- including 55 doctors who volunteer their time at the clinic and 100 more who treat patients in their offices -- to do "just about everything," she said.

The clinic has a $589,000 budget this year and is well ahead of last year's patient load. Through June, more than 1,000 individuals sought treatment at the clinic.

Last week, the clinic absorbed 66 new patients, and it took in another 29 on Tuesday. In 2007, it averaged 15 to 20 new patients per week.

Seventh Circuit Solicitor Trey Gowdy, who called St. Luke's "one of the more well-regarded charitable organizations in our community," contacted McMaster on the clinic's behalf.

"I have a great respect for the work that St. Luke's does," Gowdy said. "Fortunately, we have an attorney general who was kind enough to return my phone call, and when I told him about St. Luke's and asked if there was a chance for us to apply for some of that money, he said, 'You just did; how about $75,000?' "

Vaughn said the money would come in handy to help cover medical costs for the clinic's increased workload. For every dollar the clinic receives, it delivers nearly $20 in services.

"Aside from the monetary value of the services, if we can provide a needed critical surgery or if we can provide a drug that keeps a patient from having a stroke, that's priceless," Vaughn said.


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