Connecticut, United States

Helping Free Clinics Build and Strengthen Access to Health Care

  • July 20, 2015
  • Photo by Matthew McDermott

Most people who work in the health sector agree that good information is critical to good health care.  It is surprising to discover, therefore, the limited amount of information available about free and charitable clinics in the U.S. – a crucial part of the national health system. Even the basic question of “how many free and charitable clinics exist?” cannot be answered with authority.

The last time a systematic collection of information about the clinics was obtained was in 2005 when Julie Darnell, PhD, Associate Professor of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago, conducted a national survey of free clinics. The results of her survey were published in 2010 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, a universally admired publication.

So much has changed within the domestic healthcare sector over the last 10 years, most notably the sweeping impact of the Affordable Care Act. What affect has the ACA had on free and charitable clinics? How many patients are clinics serving? What services do they provide? And back to the first question, how many free and charitable clinics even exist?

In response to these significant changes and the need for solid data, AmeriCares contacted Dr. Darnell two years ago to repeat her earlier survey with new questions lending themselves to survey data that will provide a clear, current picture and description of free and charitable clinics. Critically, this data will provide the opportunity to assess and document the impact of health reform on the sector and identify new needs and resource gaps that have resulted from health reform.  

“AmeriCares is honored to be working with Dr. Darnell to provide clean, quality data and meet a significant and often overlooked need in an under-resourced sector,” said Lindsay O’Brien, head of the U.S. Medical Assistance Program.  She went on to express the hope that clinics across the country will use the survey findings to help prepare grant applications, educate state legislatures and other policymakers about the role of free and charitable clinics, recruit volunteers and generate ideas for current clinic operations or future planning efforts. “Clean data is a powerful tool,“ she added.   

With a multi-year grant from the GE Foundation and sponsorship from the National Association of Free & Charitable Clinics, the US Medical Assistance team at AmeriCares is providing Dr. Darnell with not only funding, but also staff and logistical support for the 2015 National Survey of Free & Charitable Clinics.

AmeriCares last year delivered more than $85 million in prescription and over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies to a network of over 2,000 clinics and health centers. Supported by the GE Foundation, the program helps partner clinics to increase capacity, provide comprehensive care, improve health outcomes and reduce costs for patients.