Moore Free Care Clinic

Contributed photo

With coronavirus forcing many safety-net medical clinics across the country to curtail operations, North Carolina’s free and charitable clinics have found new ways to continue treating the uninsured while keeping staff and patients safe – ultimately keeping thousands of patients out of hospital emergency departments.

In a state with 1.3 million people who lack health insurance, 60 of North Carolina’s 67 free and charitable medical clinics remain open, thanks largely to a new telemedicine program and the tenacity to bring it online in just two weeks.

Now, North Carolina’s safety-net clinics are gaining attention from other states and national leaders searching for ways to “flatten the curve” of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We feel a responsibility to keep our patients out of the state’s hospital emergency rooms during this pandemic, and it was through sheer determination – and bravery – that our member clinics have managed to keep their doors open,” said April Cook, board chair of the North Carolina Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NCAFCC). “Our challenge was to find a way to keep clinic staff and patients safe from those who might be infected – otherwise we’d have to close our doors.”

Over two weeks in March, at no cost to the clinics, the NCAFCC secured and onboarded clinic staff to use a specially designed telemedicine program. Telemedicine allows medical personnel to engage in secure communications with patients outside the clinic through texting and video chats over phones and other devices.

North Carolina clinics are using the technology to triage patients at home and in clinic parking lots to determine whether patients need to be seen at the clinic or another facility. Since March 16, the clinics have counted more than 3,500 patient encounters through telemedicine, including 2,300 medically related video chats with patients.

North Carolina’s free and charitable clinics treat more than 80,000 patients annually, providing primary and specialty care, pharmacy services, behavioral healthcare, dentistry and optometry – as well as social services such as food banks. Since the pandemic struck, patient visits are expected to climb as more workers lose their jobs and health insurance.

“Telemedicine is like a silver bullet that not only has helped our member clinics stay on course delivering care but undoubtedly will also transform how our clinics – and medical providers everywhere – engage with patients going forward,” said Randy Jordan, CEO of the NCAFCC.

Jordan is getting phone calls from other states and recently heard from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They’re asking: How did North Carolina’s clinics leap so quickly into telemedicine? His answer starts with a moment on March 12 when the first known COVID-19 patient walked into the Lake Norman Community Health Clinic in Huntersville, where NCAFCC chair April Cook serves as director.

“We were on a video conference call with April and a dozen other North Carolina clinic leaders when she got word this possible COVID-19 patient was in the waiting room – and it was like the light bulb went off,” Jordan said. “We knew we had to act fast to protect our people and our patients – and also provide the care people need.”

NCAFCC brought together a range of partners to launch the telemedicine program from design, to training, to securing protective masks for staff in the clinics. Financial and in-kind contributions from partners total more than $300,000 in annual support. Partners include: Dr. Andrew Barbash of The Apractis Clinic, Biogen Foundation, FaithHealthNC, Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, North Carolina Baptist Assembly, and Updox, the telemedicine platform provider.

For more information about the Moore Free & Charitable Care Clinic in Southern Pines, visit https://moorefreecare.org/

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Comments that violate any of the rules above are subject to removal by staff.

Thank you for reading!

Please purchase a subscription to read our premium content. If you have a subscription, please log in or sign up for an account on our website to continue.

Digital Only Subscriptions

Get 24-7 digital-only access and support award-winning community journalism. This gives you access to thepilot.com and its electronic replica edition.

Starting at
$5.35 for 30 days

Already a Print Subscriber? Get Digital Access Free.

As a print subscriber , you also receive unlimited digital access. You can do that here. For any problems, call our customer service number at 910-693-2487 or 693-2488.

Free access for current print subscribers

Home Delivery

Get all the news of Moore County delivered to your home each Wednesday and Sunday with home delivery. Your home delivery subscription also includes unlimited digital access to thepilot.com.

Starting at
$27.82 for 90 days