Man Dwight Rice hugs AccessHealth director Carey Rothschild

"These angels came out of nowhere"

Dwight Rice was in the Spartanburg County Detention Center when two women he’d never met approached him with an offer to help provide healthcare. He was perplexed: Why him? How did they find him? Was there a catch?

“At first, I thought maybe I was in more trouble,” he said.

Rice had turned up on a list for AccessHealth Spartanburg.  The non-profit organization was looking to enroll patients who were frequent visitors of Spartanburg Medical Center’s emergency center. AccessHealth works through a network of physicians and local health partners to provide healthcare for Spartanburg County residents who lack insurance.

Program director Carey Rothschild and former Americorp VISTA Bonnie Carpenter met with Rice and assured him that they could help with the cost of medications and connect him with ongoing care.

“It was like these angels came out of nowhere,” he said. 

The whole turn of events changed everything for Rice. He decided he was tired of being in and out of trouble, tired of feeling down on himself, and ready to do something positive for others.

“My whole perspective changed,” he said.

Rice, a soft-spoken man in his mid-40s, grew up in Spartanburg. He went to school in Spartanburg County School District 7, where he played sports and had a wide social circle.

But in high school, he moved to live with an aunt in New York City, where he became involved in theatre. Members of the respected Manhattan Theatre Club worked with students at his high school.

“It was a great environment for me,” said Rice, who went on to study theatre at City College of New York and gain professional production experience on Broadway.

He eventually decided, though, to return to Spartanburg to be closer to family. Unfortunately, some of his old friends had fallen into  “street life,” as Rice called it. And that’s where he ended up too. He had a series of run-ins with law enforcement and was arrested in 2012 after leading police on a vehicle chase.

While in jail, he experienced severe abdominal pain; he was suffering from appendicitis. He was taken to Spartanburg Medical Center for emergency surgery. That was followed by hernia surgery.

Following his recovery, AccessHealth helped put Rice on the path to better health. In addition to getting proper medical attention, he attended nutrition classes and started working out. Rice eventually found full-time employment with benefits.

Things were looking up.

“I didn’t have any more paperwork, no more charges. I had a job,” he said.

His relationship with his children has improved and his mother is overwhelmed by his transformation.

“She thought there were only two ways things would end – with me in jail or in the ground,” Rice said. “She can’t believe it.”

Rice could have been satisfied with things and simply moved on with his life. But he wanted to do more. He has become an ambassador for AccessHealth, starring in a video project about how the organization has helped him. He speaks to inmates at the county jail, encouraging them to have hope and to accept help when it’s offered. And he’s working to create a non-profit to provide mentors for inner city youth.

“I know how easy it can be to become part of that street life, and I want to help them avoid the mistakes I made,” he said.

Rice is one of thousands of Spartanburg County residents to receive help through AccessHealth. For Rothschild, he’s the perfect representative of what the program strives to accomplish for individuals and the community.

“This is somebody who is driven and is going to do what he needs to do, not only for himself, but also to change the system,” Rothschild said.

Rice is certainly hoping to do his part. And he credits AccessHealth with giving him a start.

“They saved my life,” he said.

Spartanburg Regional Foundation is a supporter of AccessHealth. Learn how you can donate to AccessHealth by following this link: