Free and charitable clinics helping to fill health care gap in the Cape Fear
WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Free and charitable clinics are helping to fill a gap in health care for many uninsured and underinsured people across North Carolina.
There are 73 of these clinics represented by the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics serving patients in 86 of the state’s 100 counties.
In the Cape Fear region, Cape Fear Clinic and Christ Community Clinic are both located in Wilmington. A third clinic, New Hope Clinic, is located in Boiling Springs Lake.
John Devaney is President and CEO of the Cape Fear Clinic. He says his organization provides a critical role for people who might not be able to afford health care services they need.
“They’re mostly working folks who have fallen through the safety net and would end up in the emergency room if we weren’t here,” Devaney said. “They’re also more likely to have chronic illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension due to social and economic factors.”
The Cape Fear Clinic offers a myriad of health services including primary medical care, behavioral health and pharmacy services, as well as specialty care such as GI, neurology, dermatology and gynecology.
“We’ve also played a key role during the pandemic providing testing, vaccinations, monoclonal antibody treatments and oral therapies to our patients,” Devaney said.
Cape Fear Clinic serves patients who live in New Hanover, Brunswick, Pender and Columbus counties. Most of them have an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.
“We don’t accept walk-ins and ask for a $3 copay, but [we] don’t refuse service to patients who are unable to pay,” Devaney said.
To address barriers to good health and access to health care, the North Carolina Association of Free and Charitable Clinics recently established a Health Equity Task Force.
Devaney is one of 29 health-care professionals and policy experts who will serve on the new task force.
“Our mission is to make high-quality health care available to everyone regardless of one’s ability to pay,” Devaney said. “Health equity is really in our DNA.”
What was already a huge job of preventing patients from falling through the cracks to obtain health care has grown exponentially due to COVID-19.
“The pandemic has both made things worse for many of our patients and exposed gaps in our system of care that has exposed the inequity that is embedded institutionally throughout the entire health care delivery system,” Devaney said.
The task force will try to identify these issues and propose solutions that all member clinics will be able to use to make adjustments in their own programs to hopefully address these issues, he added.
With the lingering pandemic, higher cost of living and other factors, 2022 is shaping up to be another challenging year for uninsured and underinsured people in our state.
“Frankly, many of the underserved and historically marginalized people we serve are in a deeper hole health wise,” Devaney said.
During the pandemic, some individuals with diabetes or prediabetes struggled with seeing a doctor on a regular basis to monitor their A1C levels.
Free and charitable clinics have also been hard hit by the pandemic because they rely on volunteers who often stayed away from clinics during the height of the pandemic.
“We also lost our ability to do in-person fundraising events that we rely on to pay our expenses,” Devaney said. “We received short-term relief from the General Assembly, but we really need more people to realize we are here and working to improve the overall health of their communities every day.”
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