WCMH History

Waccamaw Center for Mental Health (WCMH) is a comprehensive outpatient facility of the South Carolina Department of Mental Health with clinics in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg Counties. The Center has been in operation since 1967 with the focus of providing services to adults, children and families who are impacted by a mental illness. Each County has a clinic which provides similar "core" services of individual and family outpatient therapy; and each County has also developed additional programs to meet the specific needs of that population.

From its' beginning, the Center has focused on bringing services to the geographic areas where clients are located, rather than having one central location. We continue to be a "Mental Health Center Without Walls". The Center philosophy includes partnerships with agencies and patients in the development of treatment programs. Services to children, adolescents, and families is a focus of the Center, and is reflected in the fact that close to 50% of the clients served by WCMH are under the age of eighteen.

The population served by WCMH is unique. Tourism is the largest industry in our area, and we receive no funding either from the State or locally to serve the vast transient population (including tourists) who come through the area each year. The transient population is not counted in population statistics, which are used as the basis for funding. The Waccamaw area may have an increased population of as many as 450 to 500 thousand people on a single weekend. As a result, the impact on the demand for crisis, emergency, and inpatient care is significant.

1960-1979

1961 - Passage by the South Carolina General Assembly of the Community Mental Health Service Act.

1967 - The Horry-Georgetown-Williamsburg Mental Health Center is established with one administrative staff member. The local Mental Health Association plays a significant role in recruitment of funding and in hiring the first staff. The Center Board is nominated.

1968-1969 - The first professional counselor is employed, and after-care services are initiated in a church in Georgetown County. The first Clinician and Center Director was James Pearson, who remained the Center Director until 1993, and led the Center through two and one-half decades of growth. The first Center was located in a two level house on Laurel Street in Conway, SC, and physician services were provided once a week by a single travelling M.D.

1972 - An office is opened in Williamsburg County on a part-time basis, and staff travels from Conway twice a week. The total staff now numbers fifteen. There is no full-time physician on staff.

1974-1975 - Staff increased to 28 including "medical consultants". Clinics are opened in Georgetown, Kingstree and Myrtle Beach.

1976-1977 - Programs and psychiatric programs are increased. "Sheltered living programs" are developed. The name is changed to the Waccamaw Center For Mental Health.

1977-1978 - Systems were developed for the protection of patients' rights, quality assurance, accessibility, problem-oriented records, and peer review. This activity was in preparation for submission of a federal grant application to become a "Comprehensive Mental Health Center".

1979 - Health Education and Welfare (HEW) funding is received to become a Comprehensive Community Mental Health Center.

1980-1999

1981 - The Center moves the main facility from Laurel Street in Conway to a renovated building on North Main Street in the same town. Services and staff continue to increase. The Minority Outreach program receives national recognition. A satellite clinic is opened in Hemmingway in Williamsburg County.

1985 - The Center newspaper, "Stone Soup" is initiated. Additional office space is added to the Williamsburg facility in Kingstree.

1986 - Sea Haven Crisis Stabilization Program for Children is established as a non-profit with assistance from the Center. There are 40 professional staff and 20 administrative staff Center-wide.

1988 - Following a decade of growth, the Center has Clinics in Conway, Georgetown, Kingstree, and Myrtle Beach. Outreach services are provided in Greeleyville, Hemmingway, Loris, Canal Street Recreation Center, and Smith­Jones Community Center.

1989 - Administrative services moves to a new location on 17th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, and the Conway facility is closed. A new facility is being planned for the Horry County area.

1993 - Jim Pearson, the first and only Center Director since the initiation of the Center, retires. Willie Bethune becomes the Executive Director. The total number of staff is "100 and growing". The vision of the Center is to become a "Mental Health Center Without Walls".

The Center moves into its' new 33,000 square foot facility at 164 Waccamaw Medical Park Drive, Conway, S.C. Plans are initiated to build a new facility in Georgetown County .

1996 - The new Georgetown facility is completed. A satellite Clinic is opened in Loris, S.C. in Horry County.

1997 - The Center receives its' first CARF accreditation. The School-based program has grown to about 20 in-school counselors, and forty families are participating in the Homeshare program. The Center has 190 staff members. The first Toward Local Care wave is initiated. It will be followed over the years by six other waves.

2000- Today

2001 - Willie Bethune retires, and Murry Chesson becomes Executive Director. The staff now totals 220, and the Center serves 7500 individuals a year. The Housing Program has grown into the largest in the State, and the school-based program has 30 staff members.

2002 - Group Assisted Living Alternative (GALA), a high-management CRCF is opened in Georgetown County to serve as a transition opportunity for clients being released from hospitalization back into the community. The Hemmingway satellite office closes.

2005 - Good Samaritan, a CRCF, opens in Williamsburg County. The Choppee site becomes Choppee Health Center providing integrated treatment services. The Center continues a focus on development of contract services with school systems, primary healthcare, justice systems, and others.

2006 - The Kingstree Clinic moves into a new (rented) facility. The school-based program now has 50 staff in all three counties. The COSIG Grant begins, developing a program to provide services to individuals with a dual diagnosis (substance abuse and behavioral health.) The Center initiates electronic medical records.

2008 - Group Assisted Living Alternative (GALA) a Center CRCF, closes as State funding is reduced. The Georgetown school-based program is reduced due to a cessation of School district funding. The Loris satellite office closes. The Center website is initiated. The Center Director of WCMH also assumes duties as Interim Director of Tri-County
Community Mental Health Center, and some other administrative activities are shared between those Centers.

2010 - As the SCDMH copes with severe budget cuts, the Centers' staff has been reduced to 175. The HOST (Helping Students Transcend Successfully) building closes in Georgetown. The FIS (Family Intervention Services) building closes in Williamsburg County. Outpatient services are ended at the Choppee site. School-based staff in Horry County is reduced, as the Horry County Schools cease funding for the program due to budget concerns. The Center partners with the University of South Carolina on a grant to establish School-based services as a best practice. A DJJ grant is implemented, as is a contract with Little River Medical Center to provide outpatient staff at their location. The Center undergoes it's forth CARF accreditation process. All core services remain in place as of January, 2011.

2012 -The Center continued to experience the critical impact of severe budget cuts noted by reduction in staff and loss of medical staff.  The reduction in medical services was supplemented by locum tenens services which continued to drain the center’s resources. The Executive Director retired. The Medical Director resigned to return to his home town in the state of New York.  Ethel Blake Bellamy became the Executive Director.

2013 -Dr. Rupa Shetty, also a Child Psychiatrist, was hired as the new Medical Director.  A second Child Psychiatrist and an adult psychiatrist were hired helping to stabilize medical services to the clinics. Collaborations with community partners were renewed.  Funding was secured from Horry County to assist with acute care and medication needs for indigent clients.  Sheriff Phillip Thompson, along with Waccamaw, organized a local community planning group to pursue establishing a Mental Health Court in Horry County.  The center was awarded four school based expansion positions via special legislative funding to the Department.  We completed tele-psych program by linking all three clinics via tele-psych for psychiatric services.  Tele-psych enables psychiatric service to our most remote and hardest to recruit clinic of the Center, Williamsburg County.

2014 - The first foundation grant awarded to the Center was given to Georgetown Clinic by Bunnelle Foundation to enhance employment skills for Youth In Transition with mental illness. Georgetown County School System resumed funding support for School based counselors.  Horry County increased funding to the Center through the Community Development Block Grant.  The Center initiated contract negotiations with Little River Medical Center, FQHC, to provide pediatric psychiatry via tele-psych to Little River Medical Center.  Senator Ray Cleary successfully sponsored a legislative bill which empowers local county government to place a millage referendum for mental health services to public vote. Waccamaw received legislative funding dedicated to Youth In Transition Programs.  The Center’s   first APRN position was hired. We resumed filling long term vacated positions.  The Center opened its doors to rapid access to services while continuing same day access for crisis services.