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Virginia free clinics fear impending legislative budget cuts

The Health Brigade's office in Richmond's near-west end.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
The Health Brigade's office in Richmond.

Virginia’s free clinics, some in rural parts of the state, stepped up during the pandemic. And many got one-time federal funding for their service.

But as that federal money dries up and state revenue projections make the fight for Virginia dollars even harder, many clinics are fearing the worst.

With just a few days left in the legislative session, elected officials are working to form a compromise budget, and among those impacted are the state’s free clinics. Rufus Phillips, CEO of Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, represents 68 such operations that serve about 75,000 low-income Virginians.

He said between an uptick in services during the pandemic and post-pandemic inflation, the free clinic system needs the legislature’s help.

“While it is a small fraction of the overall state budget, it would make an outsized impact on the health and wellbeing of uninsured Virginians,” Phillips said.

Phillips opened the session with a $5 million requested increase from their usual funding of about $6.8 million. But he was told that number was trimmed to as low as $2 million in one chamber's budget and even less in the other.

Among those impacted is Karen Legato, Executive Director of Health Brigade, a free clinic in Richmond.

Legato said that $5 million across the state translates to about $100,000 for Health Brigade to hire more providers among other supply and service needs.

“I will tell you we’re really struggling since COVID. And our budget has doubled in the last four years,” Legato told Radio IQ.

Richmond Delegate Betsy Carr put in the original budget increase of $5 million, and Carr is among the conferees who help decide the final budget, hopefully by this weekend. The delegate did not return requests for comment and the state’s secretive budget process allows her to stay mum.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.