|Gov. Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth will use $3 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act dollars to reimburse members of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) for clinics’ COVID-19 expenses, including personal protective equipment, sanitation measures, telehealth, and hiring new staff.
“Our free clinics are a critical part of our health safety net, providing care for those with no insurance,” said Governor Northam. “Thousands of Virginians access health care through free clinics, and I am glad we can help support those clinics’ needs at this time. This global health crisis truly demonstrates how important it is that everyone has access to health care.”
Virginia’s free clinics serve an essential role in Virginia’s health care safety net, providing care for free or on a sliding scale to uninsured patients. An estimated 226,000 Virginians with incomes between 139 percent and 300 percent of the poverty level had no health coverage prior to the onset of the pandemic, according to a recent report by the Virginia Health Care Foundation/Urban Institute.
In addition to existing patients, free clinics have seen demand for their services rise, as more Virginians lose jobs and, thus, employer-sponsored health care.
“Virginia’s free clinics are a vital resource for Virginians who lack health insurance,” said Rufus Phillips, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. “Clinics are filling the increasing need for their services created by the pandemic, but that comes with a cost—at a time when donations are down. We’re happy for our clinics to receive this additional state assistance to help them provide the essential health care every Virginian deserves.”
Clinics operate with small budgets, and the pandemic curtailed regular fundraising events. Expenses that the pandemic made necessary—such as additional personal protective equipment, increased use of telehealth, hiring additional staff to meet demand, and other health modifications—have put a burden on clinics’ budgets. The VAFCC estimates free clinics have incurred an average $40,000 each in unbudgeted expenses for needs related to the pandemic.
“The pandemic has required us to change how we serve our patients, while increasing the number of patients who need our services,” said Anne-Lise Quinn, Executive Director of Culmore Clinic in Falls Church. “The cost of COVID supplies, like PPE and increased telehealth, has had a large impact on the small budgets of free clinics like ours. This support will help us continue to fulfill our mission of ensuring that everyone has access to health care.”
Free clinics have also provided COVID-19 testing, and often are seen as a trusted resource for health information to vulnerable populations.
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