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Free clinics serving the most vulnerable report strain amid high patient demand; staffing shortages

Posted at 6:37 PM, Dec 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-24 18:37:49-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Free clinics across the state were seeing a surge in patient demand amid staffing shortages. Those were the findings of a recent survey by the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, an organization representing 60 free clinics across the state -- and they said it could impact capacity at those clinics in the Commonwealth.

Health Brigade, located in Richmond, is Virginia’s first free clinic, serving the city’s most vulnerable population for the last 52 years.

"We’re kind of that human being there for them, that says 'we care about you no matter what your circumstances are,'" Executive Director Karen Legato said.

The clinic's life-saving work was free to those uninsured and living below the poverty level.

Legato said they offered everything from medical to mental health services, and services out in the community like syringe exchange and HIV testing.

But since COVID hit, Legato said they’d been fighting to keep up with demand.

"The needs are huge, but you need more resources in order to hire more staffing. And so, everybody’s kind of spinning as fast as they can," she said.

That push and pull impacts patients.

"There’s constantly decisions that you’re having to make about how far out should we put this person before it’s not a good idea to do that," Legato said.

That trend was happening at free clinics across the state.

"There is more need than ever before," Rufus Phillips, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, said.

The survey conducted by the organization found 76 percent of those clinics are seeing an uptick in patient demand, and 40 percent of the clinics were reporting paid staffing shortages and a lack of volunteers.

Beyond that, there were financial strains.

"Right now, I think after, you know, nearly two years of this pandemic, there is some donor fatigue. But this is still a critical time to be donating to the clinic," he said.

Legato believed services like the ones offered at Health Brigade and other free clinics were crucial -- especially during this time.

"These are the places that are reaching the most vulnerable in the community right now," she said. "For them not to have access to care in a pandemic... then you’ve got other issues going on in your community because disease spread from that is huge."

Legato hoped to receive more funding from the state and community to help pull through.

"This is all of our issue. This is our community, and we need all of those entities working together," she said.

Clinics needed a mix of volunteer provider positions such as nurses, physicians, dentists, etc. Those looking to volunteer could click here for information.

Those interested in donating to Health Brigade could do so here.

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