About Free Clinics
Ensuring Virginia's underserved have access to quality care.Clinics are safety-net health care organizations that utilize a volunteer/staff model to provide a range of medical, dental, pharmacy, vision and/or behavioral health services to economically disadvantaged individuals. Such clinics are 501(c)3 tax-exempt organizations, or operate as a program component or affiliate of a 501(c)3 organization. Entities that otherwise meet the above definition, but charge a nominal/sliding fee to patients, may still be considered free or charitable clinics provided essential services are delivered regardless of the patient's ability to pay.
Free and charitable clinics treat the whole patient by providing a combination of care that addresses not only healthcare needs but also social needs including: primary care, chronic care, specialty care, dental care, pharmaceutical care, vision care, women’s health, mental health, health education, case management, care coordination, and various supportive services.
Access to quality healthcare is the key to good health.Virginia’s free and charitable clinics have a long history of providing much needed quality healthcare to Virginia’s low-income, uninsured populations – and providing that care with compassion, dignity and respect. By delivering important preventative and chronic care, Virginia’s free and charitable clinics help patients remain healthy, reduce unnecessary visits to the emergency room, and avoid missed time from work due to illness.
History of Free Clinics in VirginiaIn the late 1980s, most private policies as well as Virginia’s Good Samaritan Law didn’t cover physicians volunteering in clinics, leaving them vulnerable to malpractice suits. As a result, clinics were having great difficulty in obtaining the physicians they needed to provide quality care to Virginia's underserved. A group of clinic directors worked to discover a solution -- extending the state's liability coverage to free clinic volunteer physicians.
In the wake of that success, clinic leaders began to wonder what else could be accomplished in support of free clinics. Following years of consensus building, a membership organization that was also able to receive tax deductible contributions was formed, the Virginia Association of Free Clinics, becoming the very first free clinic association in the nation with the mission to strengthen and support free clinics and advocate for the populations they serve.
- The Fan Free Clinic becomes the first free clinic in the Commonwealth of Virginia, now called Health Brigade.
- Clinic leaders worked together to extend the state's liability coverage to free clinic volunteer physicians, greatly enhancing the number of physicians volunteering in free clinics and their capacity to care for the underserved.
- The first meeting of Virginia's free clinics is held and leads to the formation of a unified, collective that works on behalf of all free clinics in the state.
- The Virginia Association of Free Clinics (VAFC) is formed as a 501(c)3 membership corporation with an all-volunteer board of directors and 21 member clinics.
- VAFC hired its first paid staff member, a part-time executive director and received its first grant funding to purchase a fax machines and extra phone lines for member clinics.
- VAFC hired its first full-time executive director, sharing office space with Fan Free Clinic and holds the first Free Clinic Lobby Day -- initiating our advocacy efforts in support of the healthcare safety net.
- VAFC served as a model for state associations forming across the country including North Caroline which became the second free clinic state association.
- The initial $600,000 state appropriation was approved by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Jim Gilmore with VAFC serving as fiscal agent.
- VAFC played a critical role in the formation of the National Association of Free Clinics which incorporated and held its first board meet at VAFC's annual conference.
- The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is enacted by the US Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
- Recognizing the changing needs of its members, VAFC rebranded itself as the Virginia Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (VAFCC).
- After years of advocacy, VAFCC and other healthcare advocates celebrated as Virginia's legislature pass and Governor Northam signs into law expanded Medicaid for low-income adults up to 138% FPL.
- The VAFCC continued to successfully defend the state appropriation which is now at $6.7million.
- Sentara Healthcare and Optima Health give VAFCC $1.5 million to support efforts by Virginia's free clinics to outreach, enroll and potentially serve the newly Medicaid eligible, the largest gift in VAFCC history. 11 member clinics became "hybrid" becoming Medicaid providers while also continuing to serve theuninsured.
- The COVID-19 public health crisis hits Virginia, free clinics responded quickly, implementing telemedicine and other strategies to safely meet the ongoing health care needs of uninsured patients, helping to prevent an escalation of the virus, reduced unnecessary emergency room (ER) visits, and preserved hospital capacity.
- Virginia's free and charitable clinics innovated to create post-COVID care clinics for recovering patients that required ongoing management of a wide variety of long-term COVID-related health issues. They are also included in the state’s distribution of vaccines making it accessible to the vulnerable populations who desperately needed it.