COLUMBIA — Ken Trogdon, a staff member with the Palmetto Project, and Dr. Bart Barone, a Charleston neurosurgeon, knew that someone had to bridge the gap between the working poor and health care services.
In 1993, these men started Commun-I-Care with 125 physicians willing to provide free office visits and two pharmaceutical companies willing to donate free medications. Start-up funding came from Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina and the Samuel Freeman Charitable Trust. Commun-I-Care’s mission is to serve the working poor and their families. Some receive government assistance for medical care and drugs, and others do not, but none can afford health insurance.
The need for service continues to expand as the needs of the poor continue to grow in South Carolina.
Dr. Barone served as the chair for the board of directors from 1997-2002, and Trogdon, a member of St. Joseph Church, is the executive director.
“We don’t have to go to Honduras or Third World countries to help the poor; they are right here in our own back yard,” Trogdon said. They distributed approximately 15 million dollars worth of wholesale drugs through Commun-I-Care and will distribute 22 million dollars worth by the end of this year.
Some of the pharmaceutical companies that donate medications are Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Eli Lilly and Company, Johnson & Johnson, TAP Pharmaceutical Products, and Pfizer. Collectively they gave approximately 260 different types of medicines that the physicians can prescribe for their clients at no cost.
Scott Padgett, pharmacist-in-charge, has worked at Commun-I-Care for three and a half years. With two full-time pharmacists, one part-time, and nine assistants, the organization fills approximately 500-1000 prescriptions a day.
“There is gratification in a job where you can make a difference in people’s lives, and I experience instant gratification from people who will thank me right over the phone,” Padgett said. “Normally you don’t get too many pats on the back in this field, but it happens all the time here, and you can’t put a price tag on that.”
He remembered a recent call from a woman who wanted to get an application for medication for a neighbor. She said that she was once in a similar situation of having to decide between medicine and food, and Commun-I-Care came to her assistance and “saved her life.”
In addition to providing free medicines, Commun-I-Care provides free dental treatment for children in kindergarten through twelfth-grade, targeting families that cannot afford dental care. Smiles for a Lifetime Clinics are located in schools in Allendale, Dillon and Manning counties.
If the organization receives additional funding, Commun-I-Care will begin construction of another school clinic in Summerton.
Some of the children served have never seen a dentist in their lifetime. Although 3,000 cavities were filled last year, the intervention and education programs are beginning to show results.
One dentist recalled a patient who was extremely grateful for the free toothbrush, toothpaste and floss he received during a visit, exclaiming, “Now I won’t have to share a toothbrush with my brother.”
The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine have supported this program from the beginning and has provided grant money for Smiles for a Lifetime Clinics. The director of the Sisters of Charity Foundation, Tom Keith, has worked closely with the organization and said he has tremendous respect for its work.
“Commun-I-Care has been a wonderful partner with the Sisters of Charity in working on initiatives collaboratively that increase access to health care for the people of South Carolina,” said Sister Judith Ann Karam, president and CEO of the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine Health System “The efforts between Commun-I-Care and our Healthy Learners and Sisters of Charity Foundation ministries have impacted positively the dental health of many children in our community. I have seen firsthand the wonderful work of the Smiles Clinic in Allendale and have utmost respect for the mission of Commun-I-Care.”
Commun-I-Care has also received national recognition for its innovative approach to providing health care and medicines for the working poor. It was selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as one of seven “Models That Work for 2000.”
The program also earned the Healthcare Leader Honor Roll for Coverage Award for its exemplary community programs.
“We are a safety net for the state’s uninsured low wage earner,” Trogdon said. “Because of their earning, they fall into the cracks of our health care system. It can overwhelm you if you let it, but we continue to make a dent in an overall larger and growing need in our state.”
For more information
If you would like to find out more about Commun-I-Care or give a donation, please call (803) 933-9183 or visit their Web site at www.commun-i-care.org.