Kathy Schwarting, CEO of Palmetto Care Connections in Bamberg, SC, and a champion for rural healthcare and broadband access, has been named South Carolina’s 2021 Community Star. The Community Star program is an initiative of the National Organization of State Offices of Rural Health (NOSORH) as a way to celebrate those serving the vital health needs of an estimated 57 million people living in rural America. This year, Community Stars from all 50 states are recognized as part of National Rural Health Day on November 18, 2021.
Schwarting has 25 years of experience in rural healthcare, working with various types of providers to improve the overall healthcare delivery systems. She created the state’s first rural health network to share services between four rural hospitals and collaborate on recruitment and retention.
She founded the non-profit Palmetto Care Connections (PCC) in 2010, and has been its CEO ever since. PCC works to bring quality healthcare services to rural and underserved communities through the use of telehealth.
“At the time, telehealth was somewhat up-and-coming around the country but fairly slow-moving in South Carolina,” Schwarting said. “After learning as much as I could about telehealth, I believed that this type of service would enable rural communities to continue to offer not only primary care services but specialty care as well.”
In 2015, PCC became the leader for South Carolina’s Broadband Consortium, which helps healthcare providers obtain federal subsidies to offset the costs of broadband fees. To date, PCC has helped healthcare providers in South Carolina save more than $25 million in broadband costs.
“Early on, Kathy recognized the intersection between broadband access and healthcare access,” said Graham Adams, CEO of the South Carolina Office of Rural Health and a founding board member of PCC. “Our rural communities need both to thrive, and Kathy has led the way in making sure our state works towards greater equity in those areas.”
PCC and the Medical University of South Carolina co-chair the South Carolina Telehealth Alliance to advocate for rural providers and create partnerships to improve healthcare access and delivery. In 2019, Palmetto Care Connections and South Carolina AHEC developed four no-cost learning modules for those interested in learning about key areas of telehealth programs. Schwarting also serves on numerous advisory boards throughout the state, as well as the national advisory board for The Center for Telehealth and e-Health Law.
Most recently, PCC embarked on a project with the SC Department on Aging to provide Android tablets, free internet service, and digital literacy classes to senior citizens in rural communities. The pilot project aims to serve 100 low-income households in five rural areas. The goal is to provide social connections during the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as increase the seniors’ comfort level with telehealth services at a time when many are hesitant to visit a doctor’s office.
Schwarting credits her own roots in a rural community to inspiring her passion for better healthcare access for all South Carolina residents.
“I grew up in a small town of about 700 people in a community where we did not have a healthcare provider and the closest emergency department was about 30 minutes away. Because of this, I always knew that I wanted to help rural communities with better access to healthcare services,” Schwarting said. “I will continue to work across the state to assist rural communities in obtaining better healthcare services and hopefully will impact the quality of life for these residents.”
To read the stories of Schwarting or any of the other Community Stars, visit powerofrural.org/community-stars.