CROSS — When you live in the country, access to basic necessities isn’t always handy.

So when folks in the rural parts of northern Berkeley County heard a few years ago they were getting a new health center to replace the aging and outdated Cross Health Center, they rallied around the cause.

Plates were passed at church. Barbecue fundraisers were held at the community center. Money started trickling in, sometimes as little as a dollar at time. Donations, grants, loans, all intended to help fund the new $850,000 center.

“We have the people all geared up,” said Linda Harkins, a member of the committee working on the project. “People opened their hearts and their pocketbooks.”

A couple of years have passed. There’s still no new building and people are starting to ask questions.

“They came out here and painted us a beautiful picture,” said Harkins. “They generated enthusiasm in us to go out to the people and we went out and presented this to them, and now people are coming to us wanting to know what’s going on.”

There’s finally good news to tell. The wait may be about to end.

A groundbreaking could happen within a month, said Lonnie Hamilton III, chairman of the board of Franklin C. Fetter Family Health Centers.

In need of an upgrade

The Cross Health Center on Old Highway 6 in upper Berkeley County is part of the nonprofit Fetter network, which provides health care to medically underserved residents, many elderly or poor, on a sliding scale regardless of their ability to pay.

The new building will replace a 1,500-square-foot facility that is more than 30 years old and ill-fit to serve the needs of the 400-plus patients who visit each month from places like St. Stephen, Alvin, Eutawville or Eadytown. Beyond the center, the nearest doctors are 30 minutes away, in Moncks Corner or Holly Hill.

Fetter literature says the building is “very small, has two exam rooms, outdated equipment that has deteriorated beyond repairing and upgrading.”

The clinic has no medical specialists or pharmacy.

It’s lone doctor, Edward Rojugbokan, arrived in 1999, planning to serve two years to pay off a student loan. He’s still there, with no plans to leave.

“It became almost like a mission,” he said.

With the help of four full-time support and administrative staff, he sees patients with routine and chronic issues. He provides cancer screening, obstetric care, immunizations, nutritional and diabetes education and the like.

The new building, next-door to the existing one on a two-acre tract donated by Berkeley County, will be about four times the size, with nine exam rooms, a pharmacy and a laboratory in addition to space for an additional doctor.

Fetter projects that it will increase patient visits by about 75 percent, to more than 2,200 appointments per month.

But first it has to be built.

“We are on schedule,” Hamilton said. “People get nervous about the fact that it takes time for these things, but the project as we see it is still in good shape. People on the outside who would be interested in what’s going on don’t know this because these things are happening in-house. They want detailed information and we don’t have detailed information, but the funding is there, it has been approved and everything is good to go.”

Communication issues

Community activist Carrie Gilliard is worried that people in the area — people with no other alternatives for health care — have been discouraged by the delays.

“People should have access to a modern, state-of-the-art facility,” she said. “We have a segment of the population that has been left out of the equation of reasonable access to health care.”

Gilliard has been working for more than two years with the committee and people like Berkeley County Councilman Caldwell Pinckney, state Rep. Joe Jefferson, Goose Creek City Councilman John McCants and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn to make the building a reality.

“There is a desperate need there, and I just hope we can be of assistance,” said Jefferson. “As representatives from this area, we are trying to do what we can do.”

For some, a lack of communication has been frustrating.

“I wrote 20 letters to different people about this,” said McCants, including at least one to Fetter asking for an update. “I didn’t get any responses.”

For many years, updates were provided by community resident Elijah Wright, who served on the Fetter board.

But after Wright, who owned Wright’s Grocery just about half a mile down the road from the health clinic, died in September, “there was no communication from Franklin C. Fetter to this community,” Gilliard said. “I think that’s very disrespectful. I think they owed the community a meeting, but there has been no communication. It’s like we don’t exist.”

To complicate matters, longtime Fetter executive director Ronald A. Ravenell retired this month.

“We are in the process now of getting a replacement for Mr. Ravenell,” Hamilton said. “All these things take time. It’s not as important to us to have a replacement for Mr. Wright. One person coming on the board will not make that much of a difference.”

But it could to the people of the Cross area, Gilliard said.

“Enough is enough,” she said. “Let’s work together and get this thing done.”

Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/brindge.