Local free clinics see increase in demand, decrease in staffing

Dental equipment close up on surgery table
Posted at 11:38 AM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 18:30:30-05

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - While organizations and communities work to increase access to healthcare for vulnerable populations nationwide, new survey data from the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) reveals that their 60-member organizations are navigating staffing challenges with patient demand increasing across the state.

The survey, which included responses from 50 member clinics in November 2021, revealed 76% of clinics are seeing an uptick in patient demand compared to the previous year.

Clinics reported rising needs in all services lines, including dental, medical, behavioral health and pharmaceutical. COVID-19 related testing and vaccinations are becoming the most requested services.

While patient demand is on the rise, many clinics are experiencing workforce challenges that are impacting operational capacity. Forty percent of clinics report paid staffing shortages and lack of volunteers are limiting capacity.

Matthew Stearn, executive director of HELP Inc. in Hampton, said they are feeling the pressure.

“That need is continuing to build up. We are getting more and more applications for care; we’re doing five to 10 more applications a week," Stearn said.

Clinics need a mix of volunteer provider positions, including nurse practitioners, physicians, nurses, dentists and dental hygienists. The VAFCC encourages interested providers to visit its Volunteer Opportunity Board & Directory to connect quickly and efficiently to current volunteer needs.

“Our clinic is here and available at least four days a week, so if we had the volunteer hours available to come in and give us a hand, we could be open many more hours to see many more patients,” Stearn said.

Free and charitable clinics provided safe and accessible health services to more than 74,000 vulnerable Virginians in 2020. VAFCC manages to connect patients with a range of healthcare services at nearby clinics.

Click here to see a list of VAFCC free clinics in Hampton Roads.

Related: Longtime free healthcare clinic in Virginia Beach established to help the working poor to close