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Cities protect residents in need

Cities and towns fill in the gaps for vulnerable residents when family, friends and community groups are not enough.

Greer Police Department and Greer CPW employees assist with the takeback event
Sgt. Chad Richardson with the Greer Police Department and Greer CPW employees
Mike Parris and Lynn Utz assist with the takeback event.

Of those vulnerable residents, seniors face acute hardships.

One in 11 South Carolina seniors is at risk for hunger. Of nearly 1 million state residents over the age of 60, at least 42 percent have at least one disability, which increases the chances they will live below the poverty line, according to the SC Office on Aging.

Police and fire officials in the Town of Ware Shoals perform in-person checks on about 15 elderly residents during the holidays or when there is inclement weather. Town Administrator Heather Fields said if winter conditions are especially harsh, officials from the fire department deliver some residents' medications to them.

In the Town of McCormick, officials are planning to hold a health day for seniors in 2017.

The idea is to involve a local clinic, the town police and fire department, the county sheriff's office, and the McCormick County Senior Center, said Sandra McKinney, town clerk.

McCormick Mayor Roy Smith put the town's McCormick Elderly Assistance Program in place. The town's police department conducts elder checks on residents who request it. Once a resident has signed up for the service, the department will make contact either in person or by phone. 

"By making these checks, it is our hope that it gives the elderly the assurance that they are vital to our community, as well as making them feel safe," said McKinney.

The town has about 182 households with an elderly resident. While the program has just started, McKinney said she hopes more of McCormick's elderly residents will sign up.

In Batesburg-Leesville, city officials conduct welfare checks on elderly and low-income residents during both the summer and winter months.

'No wonder I was feeling so bad'
Sometimes a town event can have lifesaving implications.

The Town of Neeses' health fair is where one woman found out she had diabetes.

"That prompted her to go to the doctor and get checked," said Town Clerk Sonja Gleaton. "She said, 'Well, no wonder I was feeling so bad.'"

Since 2007, the town has held the Neeses Community Health Fair at town hall, drawing the Regional Medical Center, dentists, hospice agencies, victim advocates, sexual assault educators, anti-cancer activists, and providers with walkers, canes and motorized chairs for rent and purchase.

The sheriff's office has attended Neeses' health fair in order to fingerprint children and give the fingerprints to parents, while the Neeses Fire Department has taught fire safety and distributed fire safety goodie bags and bright red firemen's hats.

Residents of Neeses, which has a population of nearly 400, turn out for the fair and are joined by others who travel from Denmark and nearby communities of Pine Hill, Livingston, Sawyerdale and others.

"We are a small community," said Gleaton, who also serves as chairman of the health fair. "And for some people, this is the only time of the year they come and get their free blood pressure checks and screenings."

Volunteers are the backbone of the event.

"I love these people here," said Gleaton, adding that one year's health fair has barely concluded before supporters are eager to plan the next one. "We get along like family here."

Medicine takebacks
While Neeses' health fair distributes health services and information, others collect unwanted pharmaceuticals, to the relief of their residents.

Forgotten and misplaced pills are one of the factors driving the prescription drug abuse and opioid crisis in South Carolina and the nation.

In October, the Greer Commission of Public Works and the Greer Police Department hosted a prescription drug take-back day to prevent pill abuse and theft by helping residents who needed to get rid of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted medications. Residents were asked to bring their medicine—no questions asked—to CPW headquarters.

"On one hand, you get unwanted prescription drugs off the streets and prevent drug abuse," said Alison Rauch, public information officer for the Greer Commission of Public Works.

"And from the CPW's side, it keeps the pills out of our wastewater system and saves future drinking water, the streams and wildlife."

The October event resulted in the collection of 190 pounds of unwanted drugs, she said, which were immediately picked up by Greenville County officials and taken to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration office in Columbia, where the pills were incinerated.