Virginia free clinics care for more patients during the pandemic, as donations drop

Published: May. 19, 2020 at 6:49 PM EDT
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The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on free clinics across Virginia. They’re providing care to some of the people most vulnerable to the virus at a time when clinic resources are strained.

The Madison Free Clinic is the only primary care provider left in the county.

“We saw a need. We knew people are frightened and scared,” Executive Director Brenda Clements said.

The clinic hired a nurse practitioner and set up telemedicine services. It opened a public wi-fi hotspot in the parking lot.

“We’ve actually had people come to the clinic and sign up for the clinic right outside the door,” Clements said.

The clinic added an online application for patients seeking care. In the past two months, 38 people applied. Clements said that is a significant increase.

The Orange County Free Clinic is preparing for a surge in new patients if restrictions last much longer. Executive Director Dorren Brown says the Orange County Free Clinic is seeing new patients who don’t qualify for Medicaid, are former patients who need to come back after losing their job, or are new patients who’ve recently lost their jobs and insurance.

Clements says the clinic in Madison is also seeing essential workers who cannot afford health care.

“They’re terrified they’re going to get the virus, and they’re so appreciative that they can continue to get health care through the free clinic,” Clements said.

The association that represents 57 free and charitable clinics across Virginia says many are seeing a 10% to 20% increase in patients.

“That’s only going to continue to grow bigger. A lot of those people won’t have insurance, might not qualify for Medicaid, and would really need to be seen at a free clinic,” Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) CEO Rufus Phillips said.

Phillips says clinics are gearing up to care for more patients at a time when fundraisers are canceled and donations are dropping.

“Without those donations, they are really challenged in terms of being able to continue providing the level of services they typically do,” Phillips said.

The Madison Free Clinic is banking on community support to allow it to serve more people.

“We’ll continue to be there. We’re not just going to give care, we’re going to provide quality care,” Clements said.

The VAFCC is advocating at the state level to get additional funding for clinics and COVID-19 test kits.

The clinic in Madison will hold the first testing site in the county on June 6 from 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. Testing is for uninsured people, by appointment.