Effort largely supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of S.C.
By W. Thomas Smith, Jr.
CHARLESTON, S.C. – In the earliest dark days of the global surge of COVID-19 and with unpredictability a relatively new and frightening dynamic of the coronavirus pandemic, a group of Charleston-area physicians launched an ambitious effort to ensure that independent medical facilities and South Carolina’s free medical clinics would have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) they might not otherwise have on hand, much less receive.
Primarily members of the Charleston County Medical Society (CCMS), the physicians realized that government agencies and hospital systems were deemed priority recipients for vital shipments of PPE – including medical masks, shields, gowns, and gloves – leaving free clinics potentially without.
In late March 2020, the physicians led by Dr. Marcelo Hochman, pres. of the CCMS, established a PPE ordering platform, ACTION PPE SOUTH CAROLINA, which has since enabled more than a million units of PPE be delivered to doctors and clinics. And what began as a Lowcountry initiative, has now become statewide, even a national template in terms of supplying necessary PPE to doctors.
Along with the CCMS, key in terms of major funding and support through ACTION PPE SOUTH CAROLINA has been BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, which has enabled bulk-buying of PPE which dramatically reduces the cost of individual units.
“I am proud of the fact that DOCTORS mobilized to protect ourselves and our patients when nobody else would,” says Hochman. “We were told to ‘fend for yourselves’ – and we did.”
Virginia Ann Mullikin, executive director of the S.C. Free Clinic Association, points to the collaboration between the CCMS and Blue Cross Blue Shield of S.C. as a model of what will work going forward.
“This effort will and already has enabled free clinics to keep our patients and staff safe, and it is a clear demonstration of how organizations can effectively help each other to fight this pandemic,” says Mullikin. “During COVID-19, our free clinics have continued to be resilient in their efforts to ensure that South Carolina’s uninsured patients have access to quality health care. It is also more important than ever that our clinics continue to serve patients and keep them out of the hospitals and emergency rooms.”
ACTION PPE SOUTH CAROLINA has advanced those aims. Literally thousands of masks were delivered to free clinics, rural health clinics, and Federally Qualified Health Centers in June. And in the first week of July alone, some 6,000 PPE units, mostly masks, were delivered to free clinics across the state.
Founded in 1951 with a predecessor organization history stretching back to 1789, the CCMS is an independent component organization of the S.C. Medical Association which is part of the American Medical Association.
In 2001, the S.C. Free Clinic Association was founded under the S.C. Hospital Association. The Association was then incorporated as an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2008.
Today, the S.C. Free Clinic Association represents and supports the Palmetto State’s network of 39 free clinics, all of which provide quality healthcare to the uninsured. Free clinics in S.C. provide tens-of-millions of dollars of free healthcare services annually, with 98 percent of all revenue for free clinics generated from donations and grants.
– For more information about the S.C. Free Clinic Association, please visit – https://www.scfreeclinics.org/.