Free Public-Health Clinics Turning Away Patients, Report Finds

Free public-health clinics in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia have seen a significant increase in patient visits in recent years, forcing many to turn away eligible community members in need of care, a new report from AmeriCares finds.

Funded by the GE Foundation, the report, Addressing Resource Gaps in the U.S. Health Care Safety Net: An Assessment of the Free Clinic Network (19 pages, PDF), found that 89 percent of the more than three hundred clinics surveyed have seen the number of patient visits increase over the past three years, while 56 percent have had to turn away eligible patients because of limited facilities and staff, expensive lab tests and medications, and declining revenue. In addition to providing primary care, many free clinics also offer specialty care, chronic disease management, pharmaceutical services, dental care, mental health care, and social services. According to the report, the number of multi-visit patients at clinics has also risen, while most clinics, lacking adequate resources, are scrambling to keep pace.

To cope with the challenges, the study recommends increased collaboration and information-sharing across networks. Clinic "buy-in" to state associations and the National Association of Free Clinics (NAFC), would also enable associations to leverage a broader financial platform, expand their capacity, and provide larger and more consistent resource flows across the free clinic network.

"Each clinic brings to its community much-needed healthcare services and dedicated staff and volunteers who work diligently to address a daunting number of challenges," said the report's author, Tammy Allen. "Without adequate resources, free clinics are unlikely to keep pace with the widening expanse of patient demand."

"Nation's Free Clinics Turning Away Patients." AmeriCares Press Release 07/13/2011.