Thursday, May 19, 2022

These free clinics are stepping up to fill the health care gap during coronavirus pandemic

(WYDaily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)
(WYDaily file photo/Courtesy of Pixabay)

While the medical system is finding itself strained due to the coronavirus, free and charitable clinics are stepping up to help by providing non-emergency services.

At the Lackey Clinic, medical professionals are stepping up to provide services through telehealth as much as possible. The Lackey Clinic provides medical, dental, behavioral health and medications to uninsured adults in Williamsburg, James City county, York, Poquoson and Newport News.

This is necessary because many patients have chronic illnesses that need to be treated but they also are trying to avoid going to the hospital as much as possible, said Amber Martens, director of eligibility and community outreach, in an email.

While the clinic is not providing testing or care for coronavirus patients, it is continuing to provide its regular services which helps keep those without emergency medical needs from entering hospitals where they could be exposed to the virus. 

“It’s an interesting time right now,” said John Smethurst, marketing and communications specialist for the clinic. “We’re collaborating with hospitals in making sure we’re all on the same page because one of the things that helps the hospitals is us being able to stay open.”

Smethurst said Lackey is very fortunate to stay open.

The organization is part of a network of 52 free and charitable clinics in Virginia, many of which have had to change their operations, said Rufus Phillips, CEO of the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

Phillips said the clinics become so important across the state during a pandemic because they’re serving people who might be in desperate need of health care.

“They’re really one of the places where vulnerable patients can go to get some care during this moment of crisis,” Phillips said. “The populations they serve usually have underlying conditions that would make them vulnerable so these clinics become vital.”

Smethurst said the clinic has had to come up with a number of new ways to reach people through their services.

“I think the [coronavirus] pandemic has caused a lot of people to think more creatively about their services,” he said. “Sometimes though you make a plan and have to change it.”

The clinic has converted as many services as possible to telehealth practices, such as online therapy and video conferencing appointments. Smethurst said the clinic is even looking into virtual dentistry practices.

The clinic also has converted its pharmacy to a drive-thru where patients can drive up to a window on the side of the building to receive their prescriptions. 

It also started providing an online application that allows uninsured individuals to apply to become a patient without having to physically come into the office.

Smethurst said the clinic is also trying to reach out to new patients, adding the hospitals have been directing uninsured individuals to the Lackey Clinic, which is helping the clinic to provide more health care access to people in the long run.

“I think for the most part, our numbers have changed,” he said. “It always seems to be changing every week…the first three weeks it was holding steady and went down a little, but it’s going back up as more and more people learn about the virus and want to protect their health in general.”

Phillips said many of the clinics across the state are preparing for the influx of patients that will be a result of the astounding number of job losses. But as they’re preparing, they’re also coming up against another challenge: funding.

Phillips said spring is usually the time when many clinics receive donations through events and fundraising programs. The donations typically fund a large amount of the services offered but the coronavirus has limited the ways in which fundraising can occur.

Smethurst said the Lackey Clinic is lucky in terms of what it can provide. It had its 25th anniversary fundraising gala just a few weeks before the coronavirus hit the area.

The clinic raised approximately $229,000 through the gala and continues to raise money by keeping its donors informed of its changing and diverse services amid the pandemic. 

As the coronavirus continues to cause national and local issues for the health care system, local free and charitable clinics hope to continue providing reliable resources for the uninsured.

“So many people in our community are working less or lost their jobs and need medical care and medications,” Martens said. “We are here to help them, to care for them, and to treat them like family.”

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Alexa Doironhttp://wydaily.com
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at alexa@localvoicemedia.com.

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