After 30 years, The Free Clinic will shut its doors
Harrisonburg’s The Free Clinic will go out of business at the end of December after providing medical care to low-income, uninsured adults for more than 30 years.
“We’ve taken care of patients. We’ve made our community a healthier place, and we’re happy about that,” says Joshua Hale, president of the clinic’s board of directors. “Even though we’re closing, it has been a great thing.”
Board members made the unanimous decision to close the nonprofit clinic because of the one-two combo of the pandemic and a decreasing number of patients.
The decrease in patients is largely the result of Virginia’s 2019 Medicaid expansion, which includes adults ages 19 to 64 whose incomes fall within 138% of the federal poverty line. The clinic had about 600 patients before the expansion; it had about 90 patients afterward.
Board members responded by widening patient eligibility requirements so that patients who make up to 300% of the federal poverty level — regardless of their citizenship status — could be treated by the clinic, according to Summer Sage, the clinic’s executive director. Previously, patients could make no more than 200% of the federal poverty level.
By March 2020, the clinic was serving about 400 patients and had about 80 volunteers. After the pandemic hit, the clinic’s leadership suspended volunteer staffing for safety reasons, prompting the board to begin assessing whether operations could continue. “It’s not the most fun decision to make,” Hale admits.
The clinic’s last day to see patients was Nov. 20. The Free Clinic’s staff is working with patients to transfer their health records to other facilities.
Lisa Bricker, executive director of the Harrisonburg Community Health Center (HCHC), predicts her facility will absorb most of The Free Clinic’s patients.
As a federally qualified health center, HCHC provides care to everyone, regardless of whether they are insured, and offers income-based sliding-fee scales.
“We care for CEOs. We care for [James Madison University] professors and we care for the homeless,” Bricker says. “Everyone receives the same level of care.”
In 2019, the HCHC saw almost 16,000 patients, Bricker says. She doesn’t expect adding 400 additional patients will strain the center’s resources.
Four full-time staff members and 10 part-time staff members at The Free Clinic will lose their jobs with the closing. “I think they are doing what they can to reach out and look for other opportunities,” Hale says.