Stories from the Frontlines of Free Clinics: Arlington Free Clinic

This week, we’d like to highlight stories out of Arlington Free Clinic. The clinic’s patients often face various and complex barriers to healthcare, and the clinic is deeply committed to addressing social determinants of health and systemic issues that prevent quality health care. Arlington is a recipient of the NAFC – CVS Health Foundation’s Coordinated Care grant to address social determinants of health, which has been critically important to its patients.

Nancy White, President of the Arlington Free Clinic, shared a story about a patient facing the complex barriers of access to healthcare including long work hours, lack of childcare, and deep past trauma. These are reasons why it’s critical to consider social determinants of health. Thanks to the CVS Health Foundation, many of our clinics got grants to do just that in 2019. “We had a patient from El Salvador has been in the country for several years working as a day laborer. Recently, his wife and 3 sons were killed by gangs in El Salvador. He was able to raise money through his church to have his 8-year-old daughter brought to the US to seek asylum. After 3 months in a detention center, she is now with her father and has a court date for her asylum hearing. Her father is learning to be her sole caregiver with all of its challenges… Recently, he was scheduled for surgery and didn’t realize he couldn’t take her with him for the procedure. Arlington Free Clinic’s staff was thrilled to have his daughter spend the day with us! Our clinic now provides him with medical care, counseling and social services support.”

Fidel is a patient at Arlington Free Clinic. He came to the United States from Madagascar 30 years ago, and first arrived at the clinic for diabetes care. Over the years, he’s lost over 50 pounds through biking, which has helped his diabetes management. Recently, his son won a full-ride scholarship to college, which he’s extremely proud of. Now, he continues to come for dental and medical care, as does his wife. If the clinic didn’t exist? “It would be a big problem,” he said.

Be it facing terminal cancer, family separation, domestic abuse, or major past traumas, Arlington Free Clinic sees a huge need for mental health care in its population. Mental Health Program Manager Jyl Pomeroy described the many complex, interconnected reasons why many patients struggle to get care– most of which come back to a need to take on social determinants of health. “The greatest barriers for our patients to access the care they need is the lack of control they feel they have over their lives and their schedules. Most of our patients are interested, but they either don’t have the money for the bus, don’t drive, can’t take time off from work to come to an appointment, may be in an abusive/controlling relationship, have no child care, and have no support or anyone encouraging them to make healthy choices and take care of themselves,” she said. CVS in the Community /CVS Health has provided grant money for free clinics like Arlington to take on social determinants of health and build healthier communities.

Dr. Terry McManus is the nurse practitioner for Arlington Free Clinic. He described a patient success story involving wraparound services to take on social determinants of health, particularly housing. Housing is a major barrier for many free clinic patients. It’s extremely difficult to stay healthy when you do not have a home. “You think of Arlington, you think it’s doing pretty well. But when you look around, there’s still a huge amount of need here… I had one patient who was living in a Rosslyn stairwell through the winter. He came to us and we cared for him medically, got him counseling, and connected him with services. He got housing and reconnected with a family. I remember, he went to a wedding in a suit. You wouldn’t hardly recognize him… For all my patients when they come to me I like to say, ‘It’s a brand new day. You showed up.’”

Anabel works at Arlington Free Clinic as the Social Services Case Manager. Her role was made possible by the NAFC – CVS Health Foundation Coordinated Care grant funding which helps tackles social determinants of health like economic stability. Anabel helps connect patients to food, housing, employment, education, and many other services. In the beginning, she had to work to do outreach with patients. Now, she says she can hardly walk through the waiting room without someone calling her over to talk. Anabel has served over 300 patients over the past year.