Lowcountry pregnancy center helps mothers and babies stay healthy

HILTON HEAD — Dr. Vera Bailey has outlasted the typical pregnancy center director. She said they usually remain on the job three to five years but she attributes her staying power to a passion to have more healthy mothers and babies in a state that has poor premature birth statistics.

“It’s a ministry of the heart,” Bailey said. “It’s not a job.”

The Pregnancy Center and Clinic of the Low  Country is a Christian-based nonprofit organization. Bailey said the staff and volunteers pray together before they start each day.

“This is not a typical organization,” she said. “It’s a family thing from the board on down to all of the volunteers.”

Twelve years ago, Bailey was working with a pro-life group in Georgia when she learned of the director’s position available at the Hilton Head Island clinic. She took the job under the assumption she would only be there a couple of years. A dozen years later, she assumes this is where God wants her.

“I have [experienced] several miracles that assured me that this is where I am supposed to be,” she said.

The center was founded in 1990 and continues to grow in the services offered and the number of women and families assisted.  It began as a crisis pregnancy center that offered pregnancy tests, counseling and some clothing. Eventually, in 2000, it was transformed into a medical clinic.

The latest addition is the prenatal clinic, which was officially inaugurated on Feb. 9. It has grown in size, too, thanks to the help of a benefactor.

Now the building houses an administrative center and a clinic, and boasts more space to help clients.

Some services offered include ultrasound dating, sonograms and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. Family counseling also is offered by volunteer professionals.

Women may receive free care until the 16th week of their pregnancy. The only costs they incur are for tests that cannot be performed at the clinic.

“Even those who say they can’t afford the services needed after that point can,” Bailey said.
The clinic contracts with Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services (Chelsea Clinic). When the clients receive all the services available at the Pregnancy Center and Clinic of the Low Country, they already have their first appointment set up at Chelsea Clinic. This is to ensure the women and their babies continue to receive the care they need.

Bailey said the clinic doesn’t set up any geographic boundaries. Clients have come from Savannah and throughout the Lowcountry. The only women who are turned away are those who qualify for Medicaid or have health insurance.

But they will refer anyone who comes through their doors to the appropriate places so they may receive the care they need.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about healthy women and healthy babies,” Bailey said.

Krystal Williams was a client of the center. “I was 19 and pregnant, and at that time, I didn’t have any support or know where to turn,” Williams said.

She learned about the center from an employee at the time.

“During my pregnancy, we talked about God and that everything happens for a reason, and everyone there was such a tremendous help for me and my baby.”

She said she received support and gifts from the clinic until her son was around one year old.

“I really don’t know where I would be if not for the center.”

Another important element of the program is education. Spanish speakers learn English with a volunteer teacher.

The staff and volunteers try to educate the women on the potential risks of abortion and teach them about prenatal care and what they need to know to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

“A lot of these women don’t even know about all the potential risks that come along with abortion,” Bailey said.

Educational brochures on a variety of subjects are located throughout the office and provided to all clients.

The ultrasound has been a very valuable tool, Bailey said.

“Ninety-five percent of the women who look at the ultrasound picture keep the baby,” she said. “The image of that baby just wrestles with them.”

Finances are the nonprofit organization’s biggest problem. Bailey said it is a nondenominational Christian organization that receives a great deal of support from the Catholic church. They are working to get as many other local churches on board as possible.

“Many of the churches have missions abroad,” Bailey said. “I think it’s equally important to give at home. It’s a mission in the community at home, too. I think there needs to be a balance.”

Annual fund raisers, plus donations from community members and organizations help keep the center afloat. They have a paid staff of seven and a stable core of about 30 volunteers. The news is just getting out about the prenatal clinic, Bailey said.

Most clients learn about it through word of mouth or the yellow pages. Some hear of it from doctors’ offices or hospitals.

In February, the center saw about 56 clients, and that number grew to 87 in March.

Bailey said their work  can be related to a familiar saying.

“If you feed them fish for a day, they are taken care of,” Bailey said. “But if you teach them how to fish, they can take care of themselves.”