Majority of Free Clinics Have Had to Turn Away Needy Patients

Free Clinic
Free Clinic

Free clinics and the uninsured

are paying a heavy price for the nation's teetering recovery: More than half of free clinics are now turning away eligible patients -- many for the first time -- according to an AmeriCares report published Wednesday.

Shrinking staff, expensive lab tests and drugs, and declining financial support are proving to be a prescription for disaster for the nation's uninsured, the study found through interviews of staff at 300 clinics.

Making matters worse is that 89% of the facilities experienced a rise in patient visits overall, including a signification surge of repeat patients for chronic ailments. Even beyond the 56% of clinics that have been forced to reject patients, there is a widespread problem of insufficient and often shrinking resources. According to the report, up to 97% of clinics surveyed said there's enough demand for their services that they could justify boosting their operational capacity by 10% to 20% -- if they had the means to do so.

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"Without adequate resources, free clinics are unlikely to keep pace with the widening expanse of patient demand," said Tammy Allen, the project director for AmeriCares' U.S. Medical Assistance Program.

Approximately 3,800 patients logged a total of 10,000 visits at AmericCares' three clinics in Connecticut at a cost of $6 million, the company said.

A recent free clinic held at the Tacoma Dome, normally a sports stadium in Tacoma, Wash., underscores the dilemma of the uninsured. The April 30 event attracted 1,500 walk-ins -- a record for a gathering co-sponsored by the National Association of Free Clinics and Communities Are Responding Everyday (C.A.R.E.), officials said.

About 46 million Americans -- roughly 15% of the population -- don't have health insurance, according to statistics cited by the government.