BARNWELL, S.C. (WJBF)- In Barnwell County, an evening of celebration and relief at the grand opening of an urgent care center.
“We [are]…a poor rural county and lost a hospital…but this I feel will be a start back on medical care,” said Jerry Creech, who serves on the Barnwell County Council.
Until this facility began taking patients in June, more than 21,000 people in Barnwell County had limited access to after-hours care.
“We really needed it,” said Barnwell resident Nancy Smith. “We were having to travel to Aiken, Augusta, Columbia, to get just minor things checked.”
The hospital in town closed its doors in January 2016 after losing millions of dollars.
“It’s a bad feeling,” Creech said. “In January, my wife woke up 4 o’clock in the morning, said, ‘my heart hurts.'” He rushed her to Aiken, about an hour away. “If she had really been having a heart attack, she could’ve died before she got there. People don’t realize how important medical is until you don’t have it,” he said.
The county council has been working to fill the void for 18 months. They gave a loan to Heritage Healthcare System, which is based in Hardeeville, S.C., to open the urgent care.
“We are very happy to have this facility open,” said Roger Phillips, the president of Heritage Healthcare System. “The community has been extremely supportive of this.”
The Urgent Care currently has two nurse practitioners and two ER nurses on staff. Some physicians from out of town have also given their time.
“We anticipate between 30 and 40 patients a day,” Phillips said.
The community shows strong support for the new Urgent Care, coming out for the celebration and even donating food, plants, and work on the building.
“To see it happen just make you feel like all the hard work was worth it,” Creech said.
A new hospital is also planning to open its doors in the area next year, but Phillips says they view that as an asset to the community– it shouldn’t interfere with business for the Urgent Care.