It goes without saying that healthcare has been a popular topic of conversation over the course of the past year. From the pandemic to the presidential election, our health and access to healthcare resources have been top of mind for many of us. While this has surely been a theme throughout 2020, Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics has been thinking about access to healthcare long before COVID-19 appeared.
Known familiarly as VAFCC, this nonprofit organization serves as the collective voice representing Virginia’s network of free and charitable healthcare clinics. By supporting this network of free clinics, VAFCC helps them adapt to Virginia’s continually changing healthcare landscape in order to best serve those who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the traditional healthcare system.
Healthcare safety net
Headquartered in Richmond, VAFCC was founded in 1993 and created with the underlying belief that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. Since its inception, the organization has been a leader in providing accessible, affordable healthcare to hardworking individuals and families who very often have nowhere else to turn.
What makes VAFCC clinics work is the entire eco-system of folks committed to its mission, from healthcare leaders and professionals providing medical services and knowledge to community members and stakeholders volunteering their time and money. Today, there are 60 free and charitable clinics located across the commonwealth.
All of VAFCC’s clinics are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations, or they operate as an affiliate of a 501(c)(3) organization. By utilizing a volunteer/staff model, the clinics are able to provide a variety of care to patients in need. Whether a patient is in need of medical, dental, vision, pharmacy or behavioral health services, they will be able to find the care and attention they need at one of Virginia’s free clinics.
Caring for Virginia’s underserved
VAFCC-supported clinics pride themselves not only on providing free, quality care to Virginians in need, but doing so in a respectful, compassionate manner. While the accessibility to care is critical, it is the high-quality of this care that keeps patients coming back to VAFCC clinics time and time again.
Most of the patients being seen by VAFCC clinics are chronically ill and cannot afford health insurance. They typically represent the majority of Virginians who live with incomes at or below 250% of the federal poverty level. Out of the entire uninsured population served by free clinics in Virginia, roughly half are white, 25% are Hispanic and 20% are African American.
Since the onset of the pandemic, VAFCC has been taking its work one step further with its Free Clinics Care for Virginia campaign. As a result of the pandemic, many Virginians found themselves without a job – and thus, without healthcare.
“This campaign launched in November of 2020 to bring awareness to VAFCC member clinics and all of the services that they provide,” said Rebecca Butler, director of communications, marketing and development at VAFCC. “The campaign’s big calls to action are to volunteer, to donate, or, if you are an individual who needs it, to seek healthcare at one of our 60 clinics across the commonwealth.”
Aside from providing healthcare to Virginia’s low-income and uninsured populations, one of VAFCC’s main missions is to continue to raise awareness about the services its clinics provide and the work that’s happening in the community.
“We really want to educate people and raise awareness about our free clinics. People have a lot of misconceptions. They don’t realize that free clinics are much more like primary care facilities; they’re for people that need ongoing maintenance of some sort of health condition,” said Butler.
Typically, when people think of “free clinics,” they tend to think of resources that are low quality and should only be utilized for the direst of situations. However, VAFCC wants Virginians to know that it provides high-quality, state-of-the-art care to those in need – even if that just means a yearly check-up.
By raising awareness of VAFCC and the resources it provides statewide, the organization hopes to draw in more and more patients who are in need of basic healthcare. That way, it can assist them in remaining healthy and happy. As a result, this will prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency room and reduce missed time from work due to illness or injuries.
“Preventative care is a huge part of what we do,” explained Butler. “The clinics are a high-quality resource and a great model of care that we want more people to be aware of.”