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.
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.
Free clinics have also provided COVID-19 testing, and often are seen as a trusted resource for health information to vulnerable populations.