For over 25 years, Arlington Free Clinic (AFC) has provided free, high-quality healthcare for low-income, uninsured adult Arlingtonians through the generosity of donors and volunteers. With the help of close to 500 volunteers, we deliver patient-centered, comprehensive, integrated healthcare to approximately 1,600 vulnerable residents each year.
We provide comprehensive services including primary/specialty care, women’s health, mental health, physical therapy, and preventive/restorative oral healthcare. Last year, we served 1,618 patients in 9,028 visits, administered 1,226 vaccinations, and filled 25,000 prescriptions in our onsite pharmacy.
Thanks to generous support from individuals and funders, including the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, AFC is able to remain open during this challenging time. Most of our patients lost their jobs in the early days of the crisis. They are universally struggling with food, transportation, paying rent, and other essential needs. Those who become infected with COVID-19 are at great risk of poor outcomes due to existing health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. They often struggle with crowded living conditions that make it difficult, if not impossible, to self-isolate. According to AFC’s President, “this crisis has pointed out inequities for those disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in increasingly stark terms, layering on additional barriers for our patients. While many of us will get to back to our lives once the immediate crisis is over, it may take years for our low-income patients to recover.”
Early in the pandemic, AFC quickly responded to meet the acute care needs of our vulnerable patients, while vigilantly protecting the health of everyone who comes through our doors. We transformed our doorway vestibule into a patient checkpoint for fever, cough, and respiratory distress and ordered hand sanitizer, gowns, masks, and cleaning supplies. We contacted patients with upcoming appointments to screen for symptoms over the phone and prioritize visits for those with urgent needs. While accustomed to evolving to meet needs, the past several weeks have required AFC to continue pivoting so that we can provide essential services throughout this crisis and restore comprehensive onsite services when safe to do so. Among the changes implemented:
• Transitioning to telehealth. AFC has begun the process of transitioning appointments to virtual when services do not need to be conducted in person. Adopting telehealth is not a simple task – a single visit can involve multiple volunteers (provider, interpreter, and scribe), AFC staff to help explain the technology to the patient/troubleshoot questions during the visit, and the patient him/herself, who may have limited access to technology and/or be apprehensive about having a visit from home. AFC staff/volunteers are embracing this change with speed and resiliency – holding over 40 telehealth visits per week.
• Providing emergency dental care/patient education. Dental staff are providing emergency treatments (17 to date) and calling all patients in AFC’s diabetic registry (about 180 total) to discuss the importance of oral health in overall health.
• Referring patients for critical wrap-around services. Our Social Services Case Manager is calling patients with referrals for vital local resources, recognizing that many have lost their jobs and will struggle with access to food, rent, transportation, and other services.
• Filling/dispensing medications safely. Our pharmacists continue to provide medicine to patients, and we now waive the $5 medication processing fees given our patients’ diminished resources. For everyone’s safety, patients coming to the Clinic to pick up medications must wait outside while onsite staff brings them their prescriptions.
• Continuing collaborating across our community. AFC is determined to be part of the broader solution for vulnerable Arlingtonians. As one example, AFC partnered with the County and Virginia Hospital Center to open a walk-through testing site that provides access to testing for residents without a car (including many AFC patients).
As we move through this crisis, so much is unpredictable—what was true yesterday is outdated today. Now more than ever, AFC, a dependable and trusted source of free healthcare for those in need, is making a critical difference in the lives of our low-income patients, who face unthinkable challenges. As one of our patients recently remarked, “Thank you very much for caring about us.”
Arlington Free Clinic: Serving our Low-Income Neighbors During COVID-19
June 3, 2020