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Demand on Virginia's free clinics continues to rise as funding cuts loom

Charlottesville's free clinic served about a thousand patients last year.
Charlottesville Free Clinic
Charlottesville's free clinic served about a thousand patients last year.

Virginia free clinics serve tens of thousands of patients, and many rely on state money for at least a portion of their funding. While the legislature appears poised to give those clinics less money, new numbers show the clinics are in higher demand than ever.

According to new numbers from the Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics demand at free clinics has increased about 11% over the same time last year. That’s in addition to the more than 20% increase from the year prior. But all that demand comes at a cost, and VAFCC CEO Rufus Phillips said clinics are already struggling from a lack of funds.

“We’re seeing growth on growth, and I don’t really expect it to slow down,” he warned.

Phillips said clinics asked for a $5 million increase this year but the General Assembly instead offered only $1.5 million more. Governor Glenn Youngkin then amended that down to $1 million. As both parties gear up for next week’s budget special session, a final number is expected to be sussed out.

Virginia Secretary of Health John Littel said at an event in Richmond earlier this week that Youngkin’s office would support free clinics.

“We’re committed to them and to work with all the other parts of the healthcare system to make sure everyone gets the coverage they need,” he told Radio IQ.

But Karen Legato, executive director of the Richmond-based Health Brigade, said any help needs to be made available quickly. Between pent-up pandemic-era treatments, cuts and changes to state health grants, and increasing Medicaid disenrollments, she said the help can’t come soon enough.

“I don’t remember us having to panic about how much funding is coming in,” she said.

Legislators return to Richmond Monday for the special budget session though an early draft of the new proposed budget may be released as early as Friday.

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.