$450,000 grantto aid rural clinic St. James-Santee health center receives funds from reform law for exam rooms, equipment

Photographs by DAVE MUNDAY/staff Catherine Watford, who lives near Andrews in Williamsburg County, gives nurse practitioner Jane Cooper a big hug after her examination at the St. James-Santee Family Health Center near McClellanville last week.

A health clinic near McClellanville for low-income patients is getting a makeover with money from the new federal health care reform law.

The St. James-Santee Family Health Center got a $450,000 Capital Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, according to an announcement from the center earlier this month.

The grant will pay for more exam rooms, a layout to ensure more patient privacy, more modern equipment such as an EKG machine hooked up to a computer, and an electronic record system, which will allow the old medical records room to be converted into a pharmacy.

The income-based clinic opened in 1981 on Tibwin Road off U.S. Highway 17. The brick building looks neat and well-maintained on the outside, but it’s getting cramped with an increasing patient load, and much of the 30-year-old equipment is outdated, said Chief Executive Officer Sandra Gilliard.

The clinic sees about 375 patients a month in northern Charleston County and southeastern Berkeley County, she said.

But some patients drive farther. For instance, Catherine Watford drove in for an exam last week from her home near Andrews in Williamsburg County.

“I drive here for the outstanding care, and specifically Ms. Cooper,” she said before giving nurse practitioner Jane Cooper a big hug. “I’d follow her anywhere.”

Cooper came to the clinic about three years ago. She previously worked in school and college health centers.

“For me, it’s being able to give back,” she said of her work at the clinic. “I’ve never had to struggle in my life. Now I’m able to help people who do struggle.”

The staff is paid but goes beyond merely caring for sick patients. The staff maintains a garden behind the clinic and gives the vegetables to patients with diabetes and high blood pressure to encourage healthier diets, according to Erica Kocsis, a licensed practical nurse who planted the corn.

She and her husband grew up in McClellanville and moved back from North Carolina about a year and a half ago.

“I knew almost all our patients before they came here,” she said.

Her husband, Steven Kocsis, is a commercial shrimper who took over his dad’s shrimp boat. His mother was a nurse at the clinic for 17 years.

Work on the clinic should start within three months, and a target date for completion has not been set, Gilliard said. The clinic will remain open during the renovation.

The health center has several satellites in Georgetown. Another $507,280 Capital Development Grant will pay to relocate the clinic on Highmarket Street. The new tentative site is on Fraser Street. Gilliard expects that move in March.

The local grants are part of the Affordable Care Act, which provides $9.5 billion to expand services over five years and $1.5 billion to support major construction and renovation projects at community health centers, according to the announcement.

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.