UofSC Center Brings Health Care to Those in Need
Monday, December 2nd, 2019
When you mention Dr. Charles McElmurray’s name to anyone in the small South Carolina town of Winnsboro, it is likely that they know him, whether as a patient or from his work in the community. For nearly 30 years, McElmurray has been taking care of the area’s residents, and for much of that time was the only health care practitioner in the area that provided care for pregnant women.
Even today, with few providers and the recent closing of the county’s only hospital, McElmurray continues to fill a tremendous void. Underserved areas where access to quality health care is extremely limited and, in some cases, nonexistent, are continuing to grow across the country.
In South Carolina, a majority of the 46 counties are considered to be medically underserved. Fairfield County, where McElmurray practices, ranks near the bottom in overall health, with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent and a ratio of more than 2,500 patients per physician, according to the South Carolina Office of Rural Health.
In 1992, the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia and other university health sciences programs launched an initiative in an attempt to improve access to quality health care for the residents of Fairfield County. Thus was born the John A. Martin Primary Health Care Center in Winnsboro.
McElmurray, a clinical associate professor at the School of Medicine, became the center’s first medical director, and he has been serving patients there ever since. One of the unique aspects of McElmurray’s role is that he not only serves as a medical provider, but also as a teacher. During his time at the center, he has helped to train more than 1,400 health professional students, providing them with the opportunity to learn about working in a rural health care setting and providing services to a community that is in dire need.
While we have a role of educating future physicians, we also work to educate our patients … I see it as a responsibility to help them make better decisions in their lives that will significantly impact their future.
Dr. Charles McElmurray
“We have been able to offer training for students in a wide array of disciplines,” McElmurray says. “From medical to social work, pharmacy to nurse practitioners, these students get to see what it is like to provide care to sometimes generations of families.”
The closing of Fairfield Memorial Hospital meant an even greater impact on the availability of care to area residents. While a new free-standing emergency room helps with providing emergent care, McElmurray is even more focused on educating both students and patients.
“While we have a role of educating future physicians, we also work to educate our patients. Family medicine is a responsibility to teaching our patients how to care for themselves and how to manage their diseases. I see it as a responsibility to help them make better decisions in their lives that will significantly impact their future,” he says.
McElmurray hopes that he has been able to help more students decide to follow the path toward family medicine, yet he understands that not everyone is cut from the cloth that makes a family medicine doctor.
“We give students the chance to see what kind of impact they can have on not only an individual patient, but also on the community as a whole, over a period of time,” he says. “We hope that by exposing them to the rural health care setting, that they will choose to stay in that setting.”
In an effort to grow the number of family medicine doctors practicing in rural areas, especially in the state, the South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare, located at the School of Medicine, partnered with the Prisma Heath–Midlands Family Medicine Residency Program to place a resident physician at the Martin Primary Health Care Center. The program’s first resident, Dr. Andre Patterson, is a 2018 graduate of the School of Medicine.
When Patterson heard about the new residency program, he pursued an interview with Dr. Mark Shaffer, the program’s site director and current medical director for the Martin Primary Health Care Center. Patterson knew the program could help him achieve his goal of practicing in a rural setting, while having access to a major academic medical center for more in-depth training in complex medical issues.
“I think this is a terrific opportunity, because I can work with families in providing a continuity of care in an area where there are few specialists,” Patterson says.
Shaffer, who is also a clinical assistant professor of family and preventive medicine at the School of Medicine, says the new residency program will serve several purposes, including a focused real-world experience for residents.
“This is an investment between community partners and patients in developing an ongoing relationship and the provision of the highest level of quality care,” he says.
Beyond the new residency program, the South Carolina Center for Rural and Primary Healthcare has also launched other rural-focused training programs, including a statewide initiative to train rural primary care providers to use point-of-care ultrasonography and a program at McLeod Health to leverage medical technology and simulation training devices to improve rural primary care physician recruitment and retention.
McElmurray, who recently received the School of Medicine Dean’s Leadership Award, credits his continued desire for teaching to those who taught him, as well as his parents, who were role models for him.
“Others took time with me and, hopefully, I can help pass along the importance of the individuals we take care of and treating them well,” he says. “I hope we can influence them in a positive way to make things better going forward.”