1600+ Uninsured Patients Per Year
A look at the critical role played by the Arlington Free Clinic and its 550 some volunteers.
Arlington is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., but also home to some 11,000 uninsured adults who are not eligible for coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The Arlington Free Clinic provides medical services to between 1,600 and 1,700 such individuals each year, from cardiology exams to on-site mental health care. AFC is staffed almost completely by volunteers and runs primarily on private donations. “I feel lucky to be in a community where we can get the support we need to take care of people,” says AFC president Nancy White, who first joined the clinic in 2000 as a physical therapist.
Last January, AFC added a dental clinic—made possible with a significant donation from retired Arlington County schoolteacher Mary Mellon—offering procedures ranging from cleanings to extractions. As of September, it had seen 545 unique patients for a total of 1,405 dental visits. White expects its impact to extend even further with the recent hiring of a dental hygienist and a part-time dentist. “There’s a big link between oral health and regular health,” she says. “So to have a setting where a doctor can ask a dentist to consult with them on a [patient], it’s just unprecedented and the way health care should be.”
Founded 25 years ago and originally housed at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, AFC moved into its current home on Columbia Pike in 2009. It relies on some 550 clinic volunteers, including doctors, nurse practitioners, pharmacists and interpreters, but is always in need of more help. Demand for its services continues to far outpace its capacity. New patients (an estimated 30 to 50 per month) are added via lottery. Volunteers are asked to commit to at least eight months, coming in once or twice per month for three-hour shifts.
“We’re doing what we can to serve people who need us who can’t get care elsewhere,” White says. “That’s our mission.” arlingtonfreeclinic.org