Thousands of Sumter families face painful decisions each day. Dinner or doctor visit? Paying rent or prenatal well visit? Major auto repair or mammogram? For far too many families, good health and health care options are luxuries that are out of reach.
Sumter Family Health Center has been rewriting the statistics on health care access in Sumter County and surrounding areas for more than a decade. Formed as a department within Tuomey Healthcare System in 2001, the center achieved designations as a both a Community Health Center (CHC) and Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2003. Today, this nonprofit organization serves more than 13,000 patients each year regardless of their ability to pay.
According to Holly Chase, the center’s director of community development, Sumter Family Health Center is a hub of wellness for families. “CHCs like ours serve the health care needs of more than 22 million patients across the United States in 9,000 locations. There are 136 CHCs across South Carolina,” she said. “Our patients see a primary care physician just like a regular doctor’s office, but our staff also includes specialists such as ob/gyns, pediatricians, psychiatrists, counselors and more. We also complement medical care with useful patient services such as an onsite pharmacy, and transportation and translation services.”
Now with a staff of 121 employees, the center launched with just 27 Tuomey employees and a commitment to serve the community’s uninsured. “There’s a trend for those lacking insurance to take primary health care needs to ERs,” said Chase. “Rather than crowd this costly service area with minor emergency and basic health care, we’ve established an organization focused on providing affordable, continuous patient care. That access has helped us cut down on unnecessary visits to the ER and, more important, a reduction in healthcare issues that will lead to hospitalization if they’re not treated.”
Chase noted that funding comes from a variety of sources. “We don’t want to be overly dependent on federal grants,” she said. “In fact, only nine percent of our budget is served by federal grant funding.” Clinic services are not free; patients are charged on a sliding fee scale based on income and family size.
The menu of patient care is always in evolution, according to Chase. “If we see a need in the community,” she said, “we try to add that service. Most recently, we added a part-time, developmental pediatrician. We want patients throughout the area to have access to quality health care of all kinds. We don’t want them putting off health care or worrying if they can afford it.”
The Sumter Family Health Center is located at 1278 N. Lafayette Drive in Sumter. For registration information or questions, please call 803-774-4500. Sumter Family Health Center is a Health Center Program grantee under 42 U.S.C. 254b, and a deemed Public Health Service employee under 42 U.S.C. 233(g)-(n).