‘Mission-driven’ outreach program expands its decade-long presence in Oconee County to a full-time facility focused on treating chronic disease
The Clemson Health Clinic at Walhalla (CHC-W) celebrated its grand opening and ribbon-cutting on September 29, 2022, marking the expansion of Clemson Rural Health’s outreach to South Carolina, both through fixed health care facilities and mobile health units. Elected and appointed officials hailed the opening as transformative, both for the long-abandoned building that the clinic now occupies and for the lives that will be changed by virtue of its services.
Clemson Rural Health is part of the Clemson University College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, and the CHC-W has had a presence in Walhalla for almost a decade. An extension of the University’s land-grant mission, the clinic began as a mobile health unit site for uninsured, expecting mothers. The College’s partnership with Oconee County has, with the new clinic, evolved into a full-time, fully staffed primary care facility that services the entire community and focuses on treating chronic diseases for a diverse population.
“A lot of universities will do something for three years and go away. We’re here to stay,” Ron Gimbel, a Clemson University professor in the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences and director of Clemson Rural Health, told attendees at the late-morning event. “We’re a part of Main Street and this is our home, and we’re here for the long haul to support this community.”
South Carolina Rural Health: By the Numbers
– About 726,012 South Carolinians live in rural areas.
– 34% of patients served by Clemson Rural Health belong to underrepresented minority groups.
– Mobile health units reached 1,490 patients from July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
In 2022, Clemson Rural Health:
– Had 6,927 patient visits.
– Served 30 counties.
– Provided 11,000 hours of student clinical experience.
– Identified 81 patients with hepatitis C; 52 are on the path to full recovery.
The grand opening and ribbon-cutting event marks the beginning of a new chapter for Clemson Rural Health, highlighting several of the partnerships that make continued outreach possible. The event included tours of the brick-and-mortar clinic and its brand-new mobile health clinic, plus free blood pressure checks, a healthy cooking demonstration, giveaways and refreshments provided by local 313 Café.
Rural vs. urban
There are 17 urban counties and 29 rural counties in South Carolina.
Number of physicians (2019):
– Urban: 12,050.
– Rural: 997.
Number of nurse practitioners (2020):
– Urban: 3,956.
– Rural: 547.
South Carolina State Sen. Thomas C. Alexander, Oconee County Council chairman John Elliot, and Clemson professor and director of Clemson Rural Health Ron Gimbel were among those who worked toward the clinic’s opening and spoke at the event.
“Access to care and availability of care is the very foundation of a community,” Sen. Alexander said, adding that Clemson has had a presence in Walhalla for 10 years, but the clinic elevates the University’s work to the “next level.”
“Today represents the best of collaboration — the county, all of county council and the University,” Sen. Alexander said. “Also to have this site with telehealth capabilities, connecting patients with experts across the state and taking a building that had laid dormant and making this a useable, useful facility brought back to life with a mission of providing health resources — it is amazing.”
Oconee County Council Chairman John Elliott recalled early efforts to make the clinic a reality and described it as a dream fulfilled for many.
More information about the future of the CHC-W and Clemson Rural Health’s impact on the state of South Carolina can be found in the 2022 Fiscal Year Impact Report.