From humble beginnings in a little red barn in Myrtle Beach to its current clinic with a full-service pharmacy, Friendship Medical Clinic has been a source for accessible health care since it opened its doors in 1965.
The oldest free medical clinic in South Carolina and the only free clinic in Horry County, Friendship Medical Clinic offers free services to adults who do not have health insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid.
“Throughout the years, our mission has remained the same: to help adults without access to medical care,” said Patty Gresko, executive director of Friendship Medical Clinic.
Friendship Medical Clinic was founded through the assistance of Myrtle Beach High School students during the time of school integration. Students took the initiative to see where their new classmates lived and played, doing after school activities with children in these neighborhoods.
Through this project, they realized many people in the community were not receiving medical care.
To qualify for care at Friendship Medical Clinic, patients must meet two requirements: they do not possess health insurance and they do not qualify for Medicare and Medicaid.
Patients must fill out a one page application to show proof of income. The application can be completed in person, via email or sent by mail. The clinic offers assistance for those who may require help to complete the form.
Gresko said many of Friendship Medical’s patients are working but can’t afford to pay for health insurance, “which is a big problem in our country today.”
Most patients are at 200 percent poverty level.
The clinic serves residents of Loris, North Myrtle Beach, Garden City, Aynor, Galivants Ferry, Conway and Myrtle Beach. Georgetown County is home to its own free clinic.
“We have patients who start with us in their 40s and stay with us until Medicare eligible,” Gresko said. “Some of them are with us for 10-15 years. We develop relationships with them. Many are sad to leave us.”
The clinic currently is home to around 400 active patients, Gresko said.
Friendship Medical’s team is comprised of mostly volunteers, including doctors and pharmacists.
The clinic has 2 full time and 3 part time staff members.
“Volunteers are really the reason we’ve been able to sustain this operation for over 50 years,” Gresko said. “That, and the generosity of the community.”
Dr. Reggie Daves is the clinic’s medical director and under his direction, Gresko said Friendship Medical is a “well-run facility.”
“We have some great physicians that donate their time,” she said.
Due to the volunteer staff, Friendship Medical Clinic is appointment only to ensure that a physician is in the office to see patients.
Friendship Medical hosts 2-3 clinics every week. The facility is home to a full-service, state licensed pharmacy where patients can have all their prescriptions filled.
“Last year, we filled over 8,000 prescriptions,” Gresko said.
Gresko has been in the executive director role at Friendship Medical for a year, but her relationship with Friendship Medical Clinic began 20 years ago when she started as a volunteer pharmacist. She was instrumental in setting up the clinic’s pharmacy.
“You need both to effectively treat a patient,” she said. “I think the pharmacy has been a great asset to the clinic.”
The original clinic building was a little red barn on Canal Street in Myrtle Beach.
The current facility is located in Conway, not far from Conway Medical Center. The clinic partners with the hospital to offer several services for its patients, including access to x-rays, CT scans and MRIs.
“Patients can go when testing is needed,” Gresko said. “They have been really generous to us. They provide this space to us.”
The clinic offers primary and preventative care on site, and partners with local hospitals through charity programs to assist patients with “more complex diseases,” Gresko said.
Friendship Medical offers free mammograms and pap smears through the Best Chance Network and free screening colonoscopies through USC School of Medicine.
The clinic also provides patients with access to eye care through a partnership with a local optometrist in Conway.
LabCorp is a clinic partner for lab testing for patients.
Friendship Medical Clinic has also partnered with three local dentists to help patients with tooth extractions.
“We’ve also helped patients obtain dentures and partials,” Gresko said.
Friendship Medical Clinic patients are treated by a team of volunteer doctors with a variety of specialties.
“We try to take care of them the best we can,” Gresko said.
While most patients are able to get a ride to the clinic, staff and volunteers have assisted some patients with transportation, even giving rides to MUSC in Charleston.
Friendship Medical Clinic is a member of the South Carolina Free Clinic Association as one of 46 free clinics in the state.
“It allows us access to some funding,” Gresko said.
The clinic is also a United Way of Horry County community partner.
“They’re our biggest supporter,” the executive director said.
Friendship Medical Clinic is not a federally qualified health center.
“We are operating off grants, donations from churches, businesses and community members and assistance from United Way,” Gresko said.
Friendship Medical Clinic is at 1396 Hwy. 544 in Conway. The clinic is open Monday through Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information, visit friendshipmedicalclinic.org or call 843-347-7199.