The Charlottesville Free Clinic has always supported the uninsured or underinsured residents of the Charlottesville area. Now, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it hopes to keep non-emergency patients from visiting local hospitals.
“We are open. Part of flattening the curve is avoiding spikes in emergency department traffic,” said Executive Director Colleen Keller. “If our patients can talk to us and pick up their medications, they won’t have to go to the emergency room. This is the role of a free clinic in flattening the curve. Open looks different today, but we are open.”
The “different” she referred to is the new social-distancing that her staff, volunteers and patients have taken. The clinic offers curbside pickup for medications, and any visitors who need to enter the building to be treated are screened before entering. Most importantly, Keller said, are video and phone calls for doctor appointments and mental healh counseling.
“Our medical is about 70% telemedicine with video or phone calls,” Keller said. “That’s new for us. We wanted to keep that open. People appreciate having a doctor or counselor call them.”
Aside from the clinic’s large pharmacy, another reason Keller said she feels it is important to remain open is to make sure those who have the hardest time accessing a COVID-19 test if they need it can receive the clinic’s help.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines indicate that in order to obtain a test for the coronavirus, a person must be showing symptoms and to contact their primary care provider so they can be screened for and possibly rule out the flu prior to a test being ordered for COVID-19. For people who lack a primary care provider, free clinics are helpful in this process.
“If you’re uninsured, how are you going to get it?” Keller said. “You’ve got to have access to someone who can help you get in the system. I think it’s harder for people who don’t have insurance than others of us feel. We’ve got to build a system to give people a gateway in this pandemic.”
For now, Keller said most visiting patients have come for routine insulin pickup or inhalers and some people have dropped by for infections in need of antibiotics.
Keller acknowledged how stressful this time is for everyone in the community but noted the kindness of all involved and the patience of patients when seeking supplies or care. Keller also noted the charity within the Charlottesville-area community, as such, a foundatio- offered funds for supplies and upgraded technology to interact with patients better remotely.
“A family foundation stepped up and offered us significant short term funds – for scrubs, for laptops with cameras [and] increased cleaning services,” Keller said. “Other donors leave us delightful notes online. Vitae Spirits is providing us with extra sanitizer each week for our back offices.”
As the city and county have partnered with various nonprofits and groups to disburse funding to those most in need during the pandemic, Keller said that her staff are alerting patients to those opportunities and resources as well.
“It’s a bit stressful, but I think we all feel good about doing our part,” Keller said. “So many silver linings. This is a strong community.”
The clinic is open five days a week, with evenings hours two days a week. Dental services are offered two mornings per week. It is located at 1138 Rose Hill Drive, and its website is here.