MUSC CARES Clinic

Dr. Anita Ramsetty talks with a patient who came to a pop-up clinic run by the Medical University of South Carolina at a football game in St. Stephen. The health center is operated mostly by medical students and has received $115,000 from Google over two years. Provided/Helen Adams/MUSC

Google is pumping cash into health care services in a rural community near its Berkeley County data center, an area where doctors and the basic medical services are scarce.

The online advertising and search giant is giving about $115,000 over two years to a free Medical University of South Carolina clinic run almost entirely by students. Google's donation funds a new weekend health clinic set up in a middle school in rural St. Stephen. 

The gift is a relatively new endeavor for the search engine giant, which in the past has focused on education in its investments in Berkeley County, said Lilyn Hester, head of Southeast public affairs for Google. 

According to Hester, the investment is separate from the company's business interests.

"A lot of the work that we do around philanthropic outreach is designed to be helpful," she said. "We take the business case out of it."

Google employs about 400 workers at its Moncks Corner site. Recently, it announced a $600 million expansion to its campus, a deal that includes tax breaks from Berkeley County. It's among eight data centers the company operates in the U.S. to process online searches and handle other functions.

St. Stephen is about 35 minutes up the road, on the other end of Lake Moultrie. There, only two physicians are actively practicing, according to the state's licensing department. And one of them wants to retire, The Post and Courier reported, but is struggling to find a way to pass her clinic on. The town has a free clinic, too, the Sumpter Free Health Clinic, which was established nine years ago and serves about 500 patients per year.

St. Stephen Mayor John Rivers did not return phone calls or reply to an email seeking comment.

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BCWS tight Google Data Center Moncks Corner address, closer to Goose Creek, and closer still to Mount Holly (copy)

Google's Berkeley County data center is off U.S. Highway 52. File/Wade Spees/Staff 

There is a strong business case for investing in community health, a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated.

"The characteristics associated with healthy communities can benefit their image and reputation," researchers wrote.

While Berkeley County fares well in its health outcomes compared to other parts of the state, help is needed in certain pockets.

The county ranks eighth in health outcomes of South Carolina's 46 counties, helped along by services in the southern section. St. Stephen sits right along the border of Williamsburg County, which ranks 40th.

Google initially reached out to MUSC with an offer to invest in the rural town. The medical university countered with a proposal to assign its student-run CARES Medical Clinic. 

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Dr. Anita Ramsetty, medical director and adviser for the CARES clinic, said students have been asking for years to expand beyond the bounds of their Mount Pleasant location, where they see uninsured patients and administer care under the supervision of MUSC physicians.

In their first years of medical school before rotations begin, students are often hungry for real-world experience.

"A big desire of our board was getting out in the community and being more accessible to folks," said Danielle Fishman, a second-year medical student and member of the CARES Clinic board.

Ramsetty said the team saw between 50 and 60 people on a first night in October, when students came to a football game in St. Stephen to offer health screenings and free medical advice. 

Google's money will go toward clinic supplies, immunizations, reimbursement for mileage and the like. Ramsetty said the clinic can make $115,000 stretch.

"You have no idea how scrappy we can get," Ramsetty said. "We're used to operating on a shoestring."

They hold the clinic at the middle school on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to mid-afternoon.

Reach Mary Katherine Wildeman at 843-937-5594. Follow her on Twitter @mkwildeman.