Direct Relief today announced a $1 million donation to help U.S. free & charitable clinics and charitable pharmacies serve their patients and protect their staffs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The donation is being made to The National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NAFC), a long-time Direct Relief partner. NAFC member clinics and pharmacies will be able to apply to the NAFC for grants supporting telehealth, medication access and general operational support, including Covid-19 testing and personal protective equipment (PPE).
The $1 million needed to fund these efforts comes from generous contributions to Direct Relief from individuals, foundations and corporate partners.
Two million people receive health care through the country’s 1,400 free and charitable clinics and charitable pharmacies each year. These organizations operate with little to no government funding and instead rely on the support of donors, partners and 207,000 volunteers, including 106,000 medical volunteers. The majority (53%) of these clinics and pharmacies operate with an annual budget of less than $250,000, and about 95% of their medical staffs are volunteers.
Many of the volunteer physicians and nurses working in free clinics are in retirement, putting them in the age groups most at risk from Covid-19. Also, most free clinic patients have serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, making them among the groups most vulnerable to Covid-19.
Prior to Covid-19, 83% of clinic patients came from working households. Many of these workers are employed in the food, hotel, personal care and other sectors that have largely shut down since March in many parts of the U.S. Some patients may have private health insurance but can’t afford the thousands of dollars in deductibles they may have to pay before insurance kicks in, leaving them effectively uninsured.
Free clinics are having to adjust their service models to limit disease exposure while ensuring that their patients have access to the care they need. Many clinics have started using telehealth to limit in-person visits. Some clinics have increased their medication assistance programs and have created drive-throughs to ensure patients are able to get their needed prescriptions.
Although the federal government recently allocated $500 million to help expand telehealth services, free clinics aren’t eligible for these funds because they aren’t federally funded.
“The NAFC is thankful that our longtime partner Direct Relief recognizes the importance of supporting our members during this pandemic,” said Nicole Lamoureux, NAFC President and CEO. “Without Free and Charitable Clinics and Pharmacies, our medically underserved patients will have nowhere else to turn than the emergency room. It is important that our members can continue providing the much-needed health care to their community while making necessary adjustments to keep their staff, volunteers and patients safe.”
“In this time of crisis, it is more important than ever that the country’s free clinics can continue helping the least fortunate people stay healthy and out of the hospital,” said Damon Taugher, Vice President of Global Programs at Direct Relief. “Free clinics are critical providers of care for the most medically vulnerable in communities across the country.”
Since 2008, Direct Relief has provided more than $375 million (wholesale value) in medical support to 863 free and charitable clinics in the form of donated medicine and medical supplies. Prior to today’s announcement, it has also provided more than $2 million in emergency grants and funding focused on chronic disease management.