HILTON HEAD — The Pregnancy Center and Clinic of the Low Country is expanding its outreach to Jasper County.
Beginning March 9, mobile prenatal clinics will be offered in four areas of the county to serve a rapidly growing client base of women who lack access to prenatal care, according to Dr. Vera Bailey, executive director.
“We are absolutely seeing an increased need in this area as the economy deteriorates,” Bailey said. “Jasper is already among the poorest counties in South Carolina, and people can’t afford health care.”
She said the mobile clinics will be held in a revamped vehicle that is known as a “toy hauler” among off-road enthusiasts because the front is a standard vehicle, while the back has an open space usually used to haul motorcycles, ATVs and other high-end toys. Bailey said the design is good because it makes the vehicle wheelchair accessible from the back.
The vehicle was purchased through a grant from The Duke Endowment, which will also provide operating costs for the first year, she said. The goal during that time is to provide medical assistance to a minimum of 1,000 clients.
In 2008, the clinic served 2,600 clients through phone counseling, material help and on-site medical assistance. It is estimated at least 1,500 women will receive medical attention at the Hilton Head location during 2009.
This is a dramatic increase from the 80 women served in 1990 when it first opened as the Crisis Pregnancy Center. Bailey, a physician, became executive director in 1995 and the name was changed in 2000 to reflect an increased focus on medical care.
She said the majority of women who seek services are between the ages of 19 and 29, although they have helped clients as young as 12 and many older mothers also.
“At least 10 percent of our client base would have been abortion-minded, or vulnerable to having an abortion,” Bailey said. “We try to calm them down, realize that we’re there to help them, and talk to them about their different options. Many of the women have nowhere to turn, and some are women who had an abortion before and say they can never go down that road again.”
Medical staff includes an obstetrician, three part-time licensed nurses, a registered nurse who is also a certified nurse-midwife, and more than 50 volunteers who serve each week.
Pregnant women are provided with free prenatal care through the 16th week, free ultrasound exams and prenatal vitamins, plus maternity clothing, a layette set, baby toys, diapers and a car seat.
After a woman reaches the 16th week, she is referred for further treatment to either a state clinic or one of several area health care providers.
Bailey said clients who go through the process offered by the center will be seen until their baby is six months old.
The clinic offers 22 services, including pregnancy tests, free testing for sexually transmitted infections, ultrasound, and a wide variety of programs ranging from Lamaze to parenting and nutrition classes.
Clients can also get information about adoption, assistance in finding employment and housing, and referrals for other services.
Bailey said she also gives presentations on abstinence to area schools, churches and civic groups.
Many of the volunteers come from Hilton Head’s two Catholic churches, Holy Family and St. Francis by the Sea. Joan Crane, 80, who attends Holy Family, has volunteered at the clinic since it opened.
“I am so committed to protecting life, and the work that goes on at the center is such a ministry for the people that work there,” she said. “The center is the best thing that ever happened to this island. Everyone I’ve ever known who works there has a real heart for the unborn.”
Crane said she has one memory in particular that illustrates the impact the pregnancy center has had on its clients. As the clinic was closing one day, a young woman in her last trimester arrived and said she was in labor. Volunteers took her to a local hospital and then asked Crane to give the woman a small musical pillow designed to soothe babies.
“Fifteen years later, I still see that woman on the island,” she said, “and every time I see her she tells me her son still holds that pillow at night, and she’ll never forget how I came to see her and we took care of her.”
Crane said the woman has a successful life, works in retail and has frequently volunteered at the center. Her son is beginning Junior ROTC in high school.
Clinic Days & Locations
The clinics operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on these days at the following locations:
Monday: Hardeeville, Wal-Mart Super center, 4400 Highway 278
Tuesday: Levy, Agape Family Life Center, 5855 S. Okatie Highway
Wednesday: Hardeeville, The Hardeeville Thrift Shop, 12 Coastal Highway 17 S
Thursday: Ridgeland, St. Anthony Church, 696 S. Jacob Smart Blvd.