People who are financially disadvantaged, particularly those of color, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Those are our patients,” said Tony Price, CEO of the Moore Free Care & Charitable Clinic.
It is estimated that nearly 14,000 Moore County residents go without health insurance. Many of those have no access to insurance through their jobs and cannot afford to buy it on the marketplace.
The Moore Free Care Clinic fills the primary care gap, assisting mostly adults between 18 and 64 years — the age groups largely left uncovered by federal Medicare and Medicaid programs -- many of whom suffer from one or more chronic conditions.
The CDC also reports that people with chronic conditions, including obesity and diabetes, have a higher likelihood of developing serious illness if they are infected with coronavirus.
Typically, Price said the clinic enrolls 300 new patients a year; however, the health and economic crisis as a result of COVID-19 has resulted in an uptick in applications.
“Many of our new clients have lost their jobs and their health insurance,” Price said. “As we traverse these challenging times, we of course must keep the public informed of the availability of human services. And access to health care is one that is paramount.”
The Moore Free Care Clinic has remained open during normal business hours to qualify and take on new patients and serve their existing clients.
In addition, a new telehealth -- sometimes known as telemedicine -- component has extended their reach.
Abigail Bivans, the Moore Free Care clinic director, describes the telehealth program as “one of the positive things we’ve been pushed into” because of COVID-19.
The telemedicine system was on-boarded in March at no cost through the North Carolina Association of Free & Charitable Clinics (NCAFCC). Financial and in-kind contributions from statewide partners totaled more than $300,000 in annual support, including assistance from 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.
“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.
The specially designed program allows medical personnel to engage in secure communication with patients outside the clinic through texting and video chats over phones or other devices.
“With any new technology with a new system in a new setting, there is a learning curve. For most patients, being able to access the video link is fairly straightforward,” said Bivans. “But if they cannot get through, we will go old-fashioned and use the telephone.”
Bivans noted that several of the clinic’s patients have their own blood pressure cuffs at home, while others will check their own vital signs and report the results during their telehealth call.
“In the long run this will expand our ability to help more patients and limit how many times they have to come to the clinic."