The Free Clinic of Danville, which provided free health and dental care for low-income patients lacking insurance, has closed for good because of a sharp drop in patient volume.
It’s still operating with non-medical staff while they process and send out medical records and distribute unneeded medical equipment and supplies to local nonprofits and two other free clinics in the state.
The clinic saw its last patient July 30. Fewer patients were stopping by because of Medicaid expansion in Virginia, said Dr. James Starling, medical director at the Free Clinic of Danville.
“They got some sort of insurance and they sought health care at other places,” he said.
The state-sponsored free clinic took uninsured patients at 133 S. Ridge St. with income at less than 200% of poverty level. It offered free primary health and dental care for nearly 27 years.
It opened in 1993 at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany and moved to other locations in the city before relocating to its current site at the former First Virginia Bank building about 15 years ago.
Funding for the clinic came from state grants, local foundation grants and donations from individuals.
Interim Executive Director Carole Holland said patients who received Medicaid have switched to Piedmont Access to Health Services (PATHS), the SOVAH Family Medicine Residency Clinic and other providers.
The drop in patients following the Medicaid expansion, which went into effect in January, was swift.
“It was almost immediate,” Holland said.
The Free Clinic of Danville had 187 patients at the end of 2018, but by March 2019 that number had plummeted to 35.
“We dropped like a rock,” she added.
By July, the patient count was down to 15.
Medicaid covers those at 138% of the federal poverty level, which left the Free Clinic covering those at between 139% and 200% of the federal poverty level and uninsured.
“It was just a trickle,” said Edward “Ed” White, president of the Free Clinic of Danville Board of Directors.
Those final 15 patients have gone over to PATHS, which takes Medicaid patients, Holland said. The free clinic is providing a $15,000 grant to cover those patients’ sliding scale fees and other fees.
The board of directors will consider during its meeting next week what to do with the clinic’s remaining assets, including its building and leftover money.
They plan on passing its assets to other health-care-related nonprofits in Danville and Pittsylvania County.
“Since we’re a nonprofit, our monies need to stay within that same area,” Holland said.
The Free Clinic of Danville is a member of the Richmond-based Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.
Other free clinics in Virginia are not closing, Holland noted. Danville’s free clinic could have become a hybrid clinic accepting Medicaid patients, but decided against it because of the presence of PATHS in Danville.
“Other clinics don’t have a PATHS in their community,” White said.
Also, accepting Medicaid would have required having someone on call 24-hours per day, seven days per week.
“This was a requirement we could not meet,” Holland explained.
In addition, more personnel and computer systems would have been costly.
The clinic had five employees before it closed.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.