Leadership Columbia Advocates for the Invisible

HHS blogHealth and Human Services Day: January 14, 2014: Written by Valerie Gardner

Tuesday January 14, 2014 marked LC14’s 3rd class day. The schedule was full and as everyone gathered at our first meeting place, the excitement and eagerness to participate in the day’s activities was apparent. The first stop of the day was the new Palmetto Parkridge Hospital, a 76 bed facility slated to open March 2014. We were greeted by Lynn Wythe, a nursing executive with the new hospital and Gregory Gattman, an acute care executive with Palmetto Health Baptist. The lobby, or family room, was beautifully decorated and faced a meditation garden. Our group was broken up into teams of 15 and taken on a tour that included patient rooms, labor and delivery, surgery, and the emergency department.

The next stop of the day was the American Red Cross. We were welcomed by the Executive Director, Bill Cronin. Bill was able to give our class staggering statistics on the effect that the Red Cross has nationally as well as in our community. Locally, we have a disaster every 6.5 hours. There have been 69 fires since 1/1/14 and 229 people have been assisted. Nationally, there are 30,000 trainings (CPR/First Aid/AED) and over 600 blood drives every day. The Red Cross accounts for 40% of the nation’s blood supply. After learning about opportunities to get more involved with such an important organization, our first panel of the day commenced. The topic: Healthcare Reform. We were lucky enough to hear from Rozalynn Goodwin with the South Carolina Hospital Association (and a Leadership Columbia alum!), Robbie Kerr, President of Kerr & Company, and James D’Alessio, VP of Government Relations with BlueCross BlueShield of SC, with Ami Coats (also with BCBSSC and a LC alum) presiding. The information provided was insightful and gave us a fantastic perspective as to what exactly is going on in Washington as well as in local government. We were given information on open enrollment, eligibility for the exchanges, subsidies, and media coverage.

To round out the morning, Dennis Coker, the Executive Director with the Free Medical Clinic, gave us some insight into local healthcare issues and programs. At this point, I would like to pause and point out that the Free Medical Clinic was the project for Leadership Columbia Class of 2012, which Dennis was sincerely grateful for and discussed at length. LC12 alums, please know that your project is continuing to have a positive effect on the working poor who utilize the clinic when there is nowhere else to go. Having had over 13,000 visitors in 2013, and dispensing over 290 prescriptions/day, it is undeniable how incredibly important this clinic is to our community. The Free Medical Clinic will be celebrating their 30 year anniversary this May. For anyone in the community looking for an important volunteer opportunity, please consider Mission 2014. There will be more information to come, but in the meantime, check out the Mission 2013 website.

The afternoon began with an introduction to Harvest Hope Food Bank by the CEO, Denise Holland. There are 3 food banks in South Carolina, located in Columbia, Florence, and Greenville. Harvest Hope serves 20 counties and has given out 25.5 million pounds of food. The food bank has been able to help 854,000 families, 2.2 million individuals, and 38,000 senior citizens. There are 6 reasons for hunger: unemployment, a lack of transportation, unaffordability of medicine/medical care, can’t afford rent, can’t afford utilities, disabled. The next time you drive by the facility on Shop Road and see a line of people out front waiting for the emergency food pantry, I encourage you to stay away from judgment or ignorance and instead have compassion. I’m sure that some of the people in that line never imagined that the food pantry would help them out of a tough situation, and you never know if you may find yourself in the same situation in the future.

The human services panel and the subsequent testimonials were my favorite part of the day. We were fortunate enough to have Craig Currey, CEO of Transitions Homeless Shelter, Andrew Boozer, VP for Development and Communications for Epworth Children’s Home, and Debbie Francis, President and CEO for LRADAC join us in discussing how each of their organizations benefits the community and the goals/mission that each organization pursues on a daily basis in order to better the lives of their patients and/or clients. When asked what the main challenges were for each organization, the following answers were given: money, understanding addiction, overcoming stigma, homelessness in the Midlands, and that the clients are invisible.  I would like to repeat the last challenge. The Clients are Invisible. I encourage you to consider donating to at least one of these tremendously important organizations.

The last panel of the day included speakers who were benefitted by each of the organizations from the health and human services panel listed above. The first gentleman exhibited a very calm demeanor and discussed how his addiction to drugs cost him several jobs, harmed relationships, and he attributed his recovery to LRADAC. The 3 phases of his program consisted of honesty/accountability, emotions/self esteem, and graduation/changed behaviors. The second gentleman was there representing Transitions and the free medical clinic. After being diagnosed with cancer, he found himself unemployed without health coverage. Transitions gave him a place to stay while he recovered from cancer and got back on his feet. The third panel member was a young woman who spent several years living at Epworth. She was taken from her home at 9 years old due to abuse/neglect and is proudly graduating from Limestone College in May. All 3 panel members currently give back to the organizations that helped change the course of their lives so that they can help others. This panel was certainly eye-opening and I was incredibly proud of each member for having the courage to speak in front of 60 people about such personal experiences. The take away messages from the speakers were short, but powerful: Everybody deserves a chance. Keep an open mind. You never know when you’re saving someone’s life.

The last stop of the day was Harvest Hope Food Bank, where we were given the opportunity to tour the facility and complete a service project. We were broken up into groups and were able to pack 400 boxes of food in just under an hour – it’s amazing what little bit of teamwork can accomplish. #LC14

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