After writing about the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, we couldn’t help but learn more about these clinics and all of the amazing work that they are doing across the commonwealth. That’s how we came to find out about Guadalupe Free Clinic, one of VAFCC’s member clinics located in Colonial Beach, a river and beach town located in the northwestern part of Westmoreland County on Virginia’s Northern Neck peninsula. The Guadalupe Free Clinic is an intrepid story of how one small but spirited institution can bring together an entire community to make a difference in the lives of so many – even when the going gets tough.
The early days
In June 2004, Father Jerome A. Magat, parochial vicar of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and St. Anthony Catholic Church, had a meeting with doctors from the Westmoreland County region. The group met to discuss the possibility of opening a free medical clinic on the premises of St. Elizabeth’s in Colonial Beach. Both Father Magat and the doctors knew that Westmoreland County needed a more accessible healthcare system, and the prospect of this church-based clinic seemed like the perfect antidote to a perennial problem.
Before long, the Guadalupe Free Clinic was born: a volunteer-based facility operating with the support of the pastor of the parish, Fr. Thomas P. Vander Woude. After a year of hard work and preparation, Guadalupe Free Clinic officially opened its doors in May 2005.
Filling a void in the community
Since then, Guadalupe Free Clinic has been resounding success story, filling the chronic void of accessible care within the Colonial Beach community. In 2004, prior to the clinic’s official opening, nearly 33% of the residents of Colonial Beach had no access to affordable medical care, a fact that was compounded by the area’s demographics – about 25% of residents lived at or below the federal poverty line.
An overwhelming majority of Westmoreland County’s population is Hispanic, whose immigration or employment status often means that they lack health insurance. And because few of these community members could afford to go to the doctor – either for preventive care or even minor emergencies – they had nowhere to turn. Enter the GFC.
Since opening in 2005, Guadalupe Free Clinic has been there to support the community’s most vulnerable populations. The clinic provides high-quality medical care and offers its patients the same services and level of care that they’d receive at any doctor’s office. From referrals to medical specialists to free pharmaceutical services, Guadalupe Free Clinic is literally a lifeline for keeping its patients safe and healthy and helping ensure they are taking care of themselves.
Getting COVID-19 vaccines to those in need
When the pandemic hit last March, Guadalupe Free Clinic pivoted quickly in order to best meet the needs of its patients.
“About 64% of our patients were working jobs that couldn’t transition to remote work, so we stayed open as long as we could in the early days to help them out and continue to provide their medication,” said Executive Director Lance Carrington.
As soon as vaccines started to become more readily available in Virginia, Guadalupe Free Clinic did all that it could to get community members vaccinated as quickly as possible. The clinic partnered both with the mayor’s and the city’s public works’ offices to get a vaccination site up and running. Thanks to the efforts of Guadalupe Free Clinic, at the time of this posting, over 3,000 vaccines have been administered to citizens across Westmoreland County.
“We couldn’t have done it without the local volunteers. They help with everything, from setting up the site to getting folks registered. It really is a community effort,” Carrington said.