More than $2.5 million.
That is the estimated amount in benefits clients of the Smith Medical Clinic at Baskervill in Pawleys Island have received in the past year, thanks to programs offered by the organization that were put in place by Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments (COG).
The partnership between Baskervill and the COG is still relatively new. It was started in late 2010 by Ellie Hopkins, who — until this week — worked at the COG as its information referral and assistant specialist.
During her time at the COG — which serves Georgetown, Horry and Williamsburg counties — Hopkins began several programs aimed at helping people 60 and older as part of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
Smith Medical Center director Anne Faul said the partnership between the COG and the medical center has been an invaluable asset.
She said before the two agencies started working together, most of the services the clinic provided were mainly medical and nutritional in nature.
Now, Hopkins meets with clients at the clinic each Wednesday to help with a variety of other needs they may have.
Although she no longer works at the COG, she said she plans to continue volunteering at the medical clinic each week.
“Before Ellie, we did not have the capacity to link people with community resources,” Faul said.
She said Hopkins, for example, helps those in need who visit the clinic find the Medicare program that best suits their situation.
“Because everyone pays for Medicare, there are some people who cannot pay when their light bill is $300 a month,” Faul said.
The AAA program helps people in those situations find help with their electric bills. People are also assisted in obtaining Medicaid.
Hopkins, through the AAA program, also helps those who qualify obtain food stamps.
Another program offered is Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) which helps students who need financial help to attend college.
The help requested can be anything. For example, on a recent Wednesday, one elderly woman stopped by the clinic to ask how she could get a handicapped parking placard for her vehicle. Although the clinic was not able to give her one, she was given complete instructions on how to obtain one of the parking passes.
Faul said clients who have been assisted through the AAA program at the clinic have received, on average, about $2,000 per year in benefits through AAA. She said when that is multiplied by the number of people who have been helped, the estimated benefit is about $2.5 million in the past year.
“The biggest benefit is helping people transition to Medicare. It is a very complicated process but Ellie knows the system and can answer almost any question,” Faul said.
Faul said because Hopkins is currently looking for a job, she knows there is a possibility her days at the clinic may be numbered. Once she finds a new job or returns to school, she may not be as free to volunteer. That’s why others are being trained to help clients as Hopkins has been helping them.
“We are trying to clone as many Ellies as we can,” Faul jokingly said. “We know she is going to be successful because everyone wants a piece of Ellie.”
One of the women who has been working with Hopkins at the clinic is Judith Silver. She said she “feels good” about what the AAA program does for people because it has helped hundreds find benefits they did not know were available.
Angelica Towe, a benefit counselor for Carolina Human Reinvestment, called Hopkins “a walking Medicare encyclopedia” which is a major asset for the clients of the clinic.
Available in Georgetown
Many of the programs and benefits offered through the AAA program at the clinic are also offered to those who visit the COG office on Highmarket Street in Georgetown with help from Director Kim Harmon, Brenda Blackstock, the agency’s ICARE specialist, Tasia Stackhouse, regional LTC ombudsman and Danita Vetter, Aging Program coordinator.
Vetter said one of those services is the Family Caregiver program which offers financial support and other services for family caregivers. The program works to help make caregiving as stress-free as possible.
“Family caregivers provide 80 percent of all care. Our government is very anxious for families to be the primary caregivers which is why Family Caregiver support began in the early 1980s,” Vetter said.
Not only does the program provide financial aide, there are also classes for the caregivers to learn more about things they need to know about legal issues, diseases their loved ones may face and other valuable topics.
Vetter said a new caregiver coordinator will begin working May 1 and classes will be set up in the three counties in the COG’s coverage area.
The classes will cover area legal issues, community resources, care tips and medical issues, Vetter said.
Hopkins said while she was with the COG, she spent approximately 18 hours each week searching the Web for funding sources.
One site that has been very valuable is SCACCESS, which is operated by the state’s lieutenant governor.
But, Hopkins said, she has noticed a trend.
“I have found many 503C companies are moving away from traditional Websites and are more and more using social media such as Twitter and Facebook,” Hopkins said.
She said she uses the social media outlets to keep up with money sources.
“For instance, South Carolina has a statewide dental clinic called SC Free Smiles which takes place in West Columbia,” Hopkins said, adding one of the main ways the service is promoted is through Facebook.
More programs expected
Hopkins said AAA is in the midst of becoming an Aging Disability Resource Center to work with disabled individuals of all ages.
The entire staff, Hopkins said, is already trained to work with the disabled, so once the transition is complete the agency will be able to assist “anyone who walks in the door,” not just people over 60.
“We serve the community as a whole. We are tasked and we target a certain population, but our knowledge is a gift and we use it to serve whoever we can,” Hopkins said.
Anyone needing assistance can contact the COG at 546-8502.
By Scott Harper
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