Shipyard tackles health care

Detyens Shipyard in Charleston, S.C., is a typical yard — 500 employees, drydocks, a machine shop … and a free health care center? Yes, you heard it right. Detyens has an onsite facility that offers free health care to shipyard employees and their families.

“Forget the ships, forget the business, this is the best thing we have ever done,” said Loy Stewart Jr., the shipyard’s president.

The center was created in 2006 under the direction of Charleston doctor Bob Freeman who also runs a free clinic for the uninsured. Staffed by three salaried physicians and a nurse practitioner, the center provides primary care services and has been extremely popular since the day it opened.


Photo by Kathy Bergren Smith

Stewart said that like many of us, shipyard workers and their families tend to avoid going to the doctor, even though the company provides health insurance. Perhaps the out of pocket expense was too much or time off the job kept workers and their families from seeking routine care, but often they would end up getting treated in the emergency room.

Stewart said the majority of employees did not have a primary care physician until Dr. Freeman and his team came on site. Now routine screenings are catching treatable conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes and getting workers the preventative medications and care they need before things get out of hand.

Because the staff is salaried, there is no incentive to cycle patients in and out quickly. Patient education is a priority for Dr. Freeman, and they offer smoking cessation and weight loss programs. Oh yeah, there is also a pharmacy, and all the drugs are free too! The company still offers insurance so that workers can see a specialist or have surgery.  

Stewart said the health center is an appealing perk for the workforce and has helped attract and retain high quality people. He added that a vast majority of employee families use it for primary care for themselves and their children.

“Moms are tough customers to please and these moms are very satisfied.” 

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About the author

Kathy Bergren Smith

Kathy Bergren Smith has been a correspondent with WorkBoat since 2002. She is also a writer and photographer for the Port of Baltimore Magazine covering shipping and port activities. Smith, also a noted commercial and fine art photographer, resides in Annapolis, Md.

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