A new medical center in Okatie that will provide affordable health care could not have happened without U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, officials said at a dedication ceremony Sunday.
Clyburn, the third-ranking House Democrat, delivered the keynote address at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Ruth P. Fields Medical Center on North Okatie Highway, the newest clinic for Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services.
The center, which replaces an aging building next door, was built with $6.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds. Clyburn pushed money in the federal stimulus bill toward expanding community health centers, including 20 in South Carolina.
Clyburn joked during his speech that the center is not even in his district. The 6th Congressional District, which he has represented for 20 years, includes Jasper County and parts of northern Beaufort County.
"These kinds of facilities are what we need all over out country," he said. "We will all benefit from a healthy society."
The health agency's executive director, Roland Gardner, said the new facility will be able to serve more patients and provide additional services, compared to the building it replaces.
"The building that we had was old and we were paying a lot of money in repairs," Gardner said. "We're looking forward to being able to see more patients and decrease the waiting time."
At the old center, physicians would work around buckets set out to catch leaks when it rained, Chief Medical Officer LaFrance Ferguson said. Staff morale already has improved because of the new building, she added.
The new medical center has 26,500 square feet of space, compared to 19,200 square feet at the previous clinic. It has more than double the number of examination rooms and dental offices. Gardner said the clinic also will provide additional services, including full-time care for patients diagnosed with HIV and AIDS. Because of lack of space in the previous building, staff treating HIV and AIDS cases could only come in a couple of times a week.
The medical center will provide care from pediatrics to OB-GYN services to adults, and also has a pharmacy on site.
One thing that will remain the same, though, is the name. The new building also honors the late Ruth P. Field, who donated land to the health services agency to start its first center in 1970 and continued to support it through The Field Foundation.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/IPBG_Allison.