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Nation's free clinics turning away patients; new AmeriCares report shows increase in need

Published 1:41 pm, Thursday, July 14, 2011
  • New Canaan resident Mary Ellen Kranzlin of the Bunting Family Foundation, left, is pictured with Lois Amador of Wilton and Connie Bertkau of AmeriCares. Photo: Contributed Photo
    New Canaan resident Mary Ellen Kranzlin of the Bunting Family Foundation, left, is pictured with Lois Amador of Wilton and Connie Bertkau of AmeriCares. Photo: Contributed Photo

 

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A new AmeriCares report has found health-care clinics providing free services to the needy are experiencing such a dramatic increase in patient visits that many have been forced for the first time to turn away eligible patients because they cannot keep up with demand. More than 300 free clinics were surveyed for the report, "Addressing Resource Gaps in the U.S. Health Care Safety Net: An Assessment of the Free Clinic Network."

According to the AmeriCares findings, 89 percent of free clinics nationally have seen a rise in patient visits within the past three years, and more than half (56 percent) have been forced to turn away eligible patients due to resource constraints such as limited medical and support staff, expensive lab tests and medications, inadequate facility space, and declining financial support.

The report, funded by a grant from the GE Foundation, underscores the increasing demand of the uninsured and underinsured patient population.

The findings come at a time when the U.S. economic recovery remains uncertain, health care costs continue to rise, and policy debates on health-care reform and immigration persist.

Clinics are overwhelmed not only by the number of patients seeking health care, but also by the increasing trend in the number of visits per patient -- who today present with multiple chronic conditions requiring frequent return visits and complex treatment.

"Each clinic brings to its community much-needed health-care services and dedicated staff and volunteers who work diligently to address a daunting number of challenges," said Tammy Allen, who authored the study as project director for AmeriCares U.S. medical assistance program. "Without adequate resources, free clinics are unlikely to keep pace with the widening expanse of patient demand."

"This study will help NAFC and our members to quantify even more the story of our patients, the need of our clinics and the impact we are having in our communities and throughout the country on a daily basis," said Nicole Lamoureux, executive director of National Association of Free Clinics.

"AmeriCares is leveraging this evidence-based research to expand our U.S. Medical Assistance Program and provide more clinics with greater quantities of medicines that meet foreseeable trends among free clinic patients," AmeriCares president and CEO Curt Welling said.

"By sharing our findings we hope to raise awareness of the plight of the uninsured and offer recommendations for resource providers to effectively increase their support to the U.S. health care safety net," he said.

Across the United States, AmeriCares provides ongoing medical assistance to free clinics, nonprofit pharmacies and community health centers that serve America's poor and uninsured.

In 2010, AmeriCares delivered nearly $24 million in aid to U.S. health care partners and also provided $215 million in free prescription medications through the AmeriCares Patient Assistance Program.

In addition, AmeriCares Free Clinics offer outpatient medical services to underserved patients in Connecticut.

Last year, AmeriCares three clinics provided nearly 10,000 visits for 3,800 patients for a total value of $6 million in health care services and aid.

To obtain a copy of the report, contact the AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program at uspartnerships@AmeriCares.org.

AmeriCares is a nonprofit global health and disaster relief organization which delivers medicines, medical supplies and aid to people in need around the world and across the United States.

Since it was established in 1982, AmeriCares has distributed more than $10 billion in humanitarian aid to 147 countries.

The GE Foundation is the philanthropic organization of the General Electric Company.

It works to solve some of the world's most difficult problems.

In coordination with its partners, it supports U.S. and international education, developing health globally, the environment, public policy, human rights, and disaster relief. In 2010, the entire GE family -- including businesses, employees, retirees and the GE Foundation -- contributed an estimated $250 million in cash, products, and services to charitable organizations around the world.

For more information, visit www.gefoundation.com or www.AmeriCares.org.