It’s hard to find a job that offers insurance these days. And insurance is expensive if you have to pay for it yourself – too expensive for a lot of families in our area.  Still, no one can afford to be without health care, and that’s why the Free Clinic of the New River Valley is here. They even describe themselves as above.

The Free Clinic is a medical facility for adult residents of the New River Valley who are uninsured and are low-income. Their program provides medical, dental and mental health care as well as pharmacy services to eligible patients living in Montgomery, Floyd, Pulaski, and Giles counties and the City of Radford, and is a non-profit 501(C)(3) organization that is accredited through the Virginia Association of Free Clinics.

Photo by Marty Gordon Dental services are a big part of the Free Clinic of the NRV's overall goal. They are currently only servicing adults and have a three-month waiting list. But plans call for services to Medicaid-eligible children in the near future.

Their services are provided by a small staff as well as more than 450 physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, specialists, dentists and local citizens who volunteer their time at the Free Clinic. Those are also coordinated through relationships with the area hospitals, pharmacies, physician specialty offices and outpatient facilities.

Interested residents can access services through an eligibility screening process. Once a patient, appointments with physicians are made Monday- Friday with a walk-in Clinic for acute care available after hours on the first and third Tuesday of each month in Christiansburg.

The NRV clinic also has two additional sites for medical care. In Radford, the Clinic operates a walk-in only opportunity on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Radford Worship Center. In Pearisburg, the Clinic is open for daytime appointments Monday through Thursday.

The eligibility application process is a requirement for interested residents in order to ensure that resources are directed most effectively in meeting patient’s healthcare needs. They admit adults (18 – 65 years) who are uninsured and low-income.

To determine qualification, potential patients can come to the Clinic to pick-up an application and speak to an Eligibility Screener between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. or 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Upon eligibility determination, a patient is issued a card annually. The Clinic card allows the patient to access any of the services the Clinic is able to offer within its resources.

With the recent changes in Healthcare and many people in our area being jobless and without health insurance, Brauns said demand has steadily increased the past three years.

“In 2011, we saw a 25 percent increase in the number of new patients enrolling at the Clinic. These individuals are not simply seeking check-ups and flu shots. These are folks who have lost their jobs, and with their jobs also have lost their health insurance. They find themselves desperately looking for work, often barely scraping by,” she said.

The Free Clinic of the NRV is not for profit, and they do not bill any third party or insurance company for our services.

“We don’t get paid based on how much we produce.  Everything is charitable.  So when the demand rises, we can’t just hire more doctors or add a wing to the building.  We push up our sleeves and dig deeper and work harder.  As a charity, we know this routine well,” Brauns said.

The executive director said her clinic has yet to see or understand the full impact of health care reform.  “We do know that the effects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on our organization and all health care safety net providers will be gradual from 2013-2019 as different parts of the health care law take effect.  This will be a tumultuous time and we will stay flexible in order to stay consistent with current realities, even if these realities change from month-to-month.” she said.

Also during this period, the NRV Clinic has been working closely working with other health care providers locally, to create and maintain a health care safety net that is consistent for the current need.

For example, Brauns said they may find that dental services may need to be expanded, because dental coverage is not part of the planned ACA expansion of Medicaid for adults. As a private, non-profit organization, the Free Clinic relies on the support of individuals, businesses and foundations for sustainable funding, and is a United Way partner and receiving grants from organizations such as the Virginia Health Care Foundation based in Richmond. Local governments are also strong supporters of each of our Clinics and provide funding as well as in-kind support.

The clinic did see a strong dip in Foundation support, according to Brauns, during the recession. “Foundations we had relied on simply were not able to give at the level they had previously or stopped providing grants altogether. Surprisingly during this time, our individual community support not only stayed the same, but it slightly increased. The New River Valley is truly a benevolent community.”

The Giles Free Clinic, a satellite of the Free Clinic of the New River Valley, was awarded a grant last year by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration last (HRSA) totaling $481,130 over three years to create a rural health network that will integrate and expand access to primary and specialty health care services for the people of Giles County.

“The Network will bring together seven existing healthcare non-profit organizations to improve efficiencies and facilitate greater access to medical, dental and mental health care, health education and parenting workshops for Giles County residents,” stated Brauns.  The Giles Free Clinic and Carilion Giles Community Hospital will play key roles in the Network.

The Giles Free Clinic’s application was one of 18 funded from a pool of 130 across the nation and the only grant awarded in Virginia.

This year, in addition to serving uninsured adults, the Free Clinic of the New River Valley will begin seeing Medicaid-eligible children for the first time through a newly-established Family Dental Clinic of the New River Valley, Inc. Brauns said they are currently advertising for a dentist to help with this goal.

“This is a key milestone for us as this service expansion to pediatric dental care will help fill a great need in the NRV as we witness generational poverty in our waiting room each day. Through the provision of health and dental care and education, we try to break the cycle of illness that perpetuates poverty and dependence. Providing oral health education to children, and empowering their parents to care for their children’s oral health, is one major strategy,” she said.

While she can’t look into a crystal ball to determine the future, Brauns feels the resources of this Clinic will most certainly be refocused over the next several years as the Affordable Care Act rules and regulations are identified. But the organization will not disappear.

This Clinic has grown steadily over the past 30 years (we celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2011), with the mission of providing health care to this community’s less fortunate residents.  Even if health care reform is implemented according to the current law, there will be a major role for the Free Clinic of the New River Valley.

“For example, we may find that the newly insured are having difficulties getting an appointment with a health care provider—that there is a doctor shortage.  If this occurs and it is very likely it will, we may need to dovetail our vast volunteer resources with those of a federally-funded clinic—in other words, integrate the work of our volunteer doctors, nurses, and specialists with that of the paid staff of a public clinic,” Brauns said.

Both as a means to support the Clinic, and as a way to have patients maintain their health, the clinic does collect small administrative fees for prescription medications and dental visits. In addition, patients are asked to make a voluntary donation to the Clinic for a doctor visit.

For more information about the Free Clinic of the NRV, stop by for information at 215 Roanoke St., Christiansburg, or call 381-0820. Or on the web at: www.nrvfreeclinic.org.

There are also many volunteer opportunities at the Christiansburg, Radford, and Giles clinic sites.

Currently, there are 50 Free Clinics in Virginia.

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