Mercy Medicine Free Clinic began operations in October 1994 within the Manna House of Florence.
The first clinic was staffed by physicians and registered nurses along with other supportive volunteers. MMFC was founded as a free Christian clinic to assist Florence and Dillon County patients who received neither Medicaid nor Medicare and could not afford to pay for private insurance.
Dillon County later established its own free clinic. Mercy Medicine Free Clinic now serves Florence and Williamsburg counties.
From its humble beginnings, Mercy Medicine Free Clinic operated with a redemptive mission statement with three parts:
>> 1. The clinic would provide – based upon Judeo-Christian principles – free, quality medical care to the indigent and working poor residents of the Pee Dee region.
>> 2. This endeavor would serve to foster self-worth, and volunteers were provided an opportunity for meaningful community service.
>> 3. The clinic would provide a Christian experience in the community.
The first physicians serving in the clinic were Dr. N.B. Baroody, Dr. Earl Jones, Dr. Myers Hicks, Dr. Harry S. Allen Jr., Dr. James Owen and later Dr. John Thomason. The first volunteer nurses were Anne Fisher, Kim Lawson, Jean Floyd and Rosemary Jellison. Patients were seen on Tuesday mornings during the first year, during which 420 patients were served. These numbers grew rapidly.
It was quickly realized that nearly all of the MMFC patients could not afford to pay for their life-saving medications. The physicians tried to remedy this by providing sample pharmaceuticals. Even so, it also became necessary for MMFC to raise funds to pay for other medications. Additionally, to avoid the abuse of controlled substances, the board of MMFC passed a stipulation prohibiting the clinic from ordering or providing any such pharmaceuticals.
In 1998, the clinic was offered a much larger and more suitable office suite at Lighthouse Ministries, and it temporarily worked under the supervision of that organization's board. MMFC went on to become a separate entity with its own 501 (c) (3) recognition and approval. An independent board of directors was elected in January 2000. A constitution and bylaws were drawn up and subsequently approved by the board.
The "Christian message" underwriting the MMFC experience remained steadfast in the bylaws; however, any possible future federal funding was thereby terminated. The board was devoted, courageously, to maintaining the fundamental Christian message to its needy patients. That was not to be removed.
The first board members were Dr. Myers Hicks (chairman), Dr. N. B. Baroody (vice chairman), Dr. Berry Monroe, Berta Allen, R.N., Robin Stoupenos, R.N., Vicki Wheelus, Malcolm Rogers (treasurer) and Jerry Langston (pharmacy consultant).
The clinic's current location at 500 S. Coit St. became viable when McLeod Health offered the space. It didn't take long for patient numbers and services to surge. MMFC continues to provide life-saving medications, medical visits and dental services.
MMFC completed its dental facility under the guidance of Dr. Thad Davis and Charles Grace III in 2005. This allows Mercy to offer dental services such as treatments for pain and infection as well as extractions to indigent patients. A busy dental clinic continues at MMFC, with new dental office equipment and an ever-expanding number of patients.
Primary dental care is administered at MMFC, and restorative care is performed outside for free by devoted volunteer dentists at their private offices. Dentures and “partials” are also provided at no costs to patients by a collaborative partnership with the Sexton Dental Clinic.
A great challenge has been the demand imposed by Mercy's explosive growth, which has prompted the need for salaried personnel and funding to provide free medicine to the indigent. Most paid employees work with a lower pay scale than the private sector and without a benefit package. They are truly dedicated to their Christian work and service.
Free pharmaceuticals has been a standard at MMFC. Local pharmacies provide drugs at discount prices to the clinic, and Wel Vista Pharmaceuticals in Columbia provides limitless free (non-narcotic) medicines to all qualifying patients.
Today, as a member of the South Carolina Free Clinic Association – of which there are 41 free such clinics throughout the state – MMFC is just one of four free medical clinics in South Carolina that offer dental care as well.
Special thanks must be given to several benefactors who have made Mercy Medicine Free Clinic's ministry possible. From the start, McLeod Regional Medical Center, Carolinas Hospital System (now the MUSC- Florence Center) and Pee Dee Pathology and Radiology have provided lab and X-ray services to clinic patients. Practicing physicians have provided their services free of charge to patients who have been referred by the clinic.
Residents in the McLeod Family Practice program also have helped by seeing patients in the clinic. In recent years, much of the primary health care has fallen upon the shouldlers of well-trained nurse practitioners.
A special relationshis exists between MMFC and the Francis Marion University Department of Nursing. Student nurses gain valuable clinical experience rotating through MMFC. As FMU collaborates with MMFC, research ventures are constantly being developed with computer technology to improve the treatment of particularly diabetic patients, thereby lowering their complications.
To celebrate the 25th silver anniversary year, the board is sponsoring a big gala fundraiser from 7 to 11 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Waters Building in downtown Florence. The intention is to raise significant funding for the future and growth and development of the Mercy Medicine Free Clinic as it seeks to serve even larger numbers of needy patients.
Mercy Medicine Free Clinic has been a true blessing to the greater Florence community. May God continue to bless Mercy, its worthy patients, its devoted staff, as the next 25 years come to be. Please come and visit MMFC and experience Christian love in the delivery of heatlh care.