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‘We weren’t expecting this': Bradley Free Clinic balances unprecedented demand with lack of funding

Number of low-income, uninsured people needing care has skyrocketed in Roanoke since pandemic started

ROANOKE, Va. – The coronavirus pandemic has caused many people to lose their jobs and in turn, their health insurance, putting a huge strain on clinics that provide health care for free.

Two and a half years ago, Reggie Long was rushed to the hospital for a health scare that was also a financial scare.

“I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know where to go. They said they were going to release me but I needed a place to go. I needed special help, special attention or I wouldn’t be able to make it,” said Long, who’s a patient at the Bradley Free Clinic.

That’s when Long found the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke.

“I know I couldn’t afford it nowhere else. I wouldn’t be around ‘cause I don’t think I would’ve made it two weeks after that and here it is, two and a half years,” Long said.

Long’s story is one of many at the clinic, providing much-needed health care for low-income and uninsured people. Since the start of COVID-19, that population in the Star City has skyrocketed.

“I wasn’t expecting this. We weren’t expecting this,” said Janine Underwood, executive director of the Bradley Free Clinic.

Underwood said they’ve seen record numbers of new patients, registering 45 last week alone, compared to an average of 10 a week before the pandemic.

“I’ve never seen that number before,” Underwood said.

“We’re seeing a large group of people that had previously always been insured and now no longer are insured,” said Carolyn Williams, family nurse practitioner at Bradley Free Clinic.

Mental health services are seeing the biggest spike, with 360 visits in June compared to just 40 last June.

“Free clinics have always been here to fill in the gaps and now there’s a huge gap,” Underwood said.

The increased demand is also leading to a huge gap in funding for the nonprofit, already struggling from fewer donations and canceled fundraisers.

“We are definitely in more need now than we ever have been. We’re kind of scrambling to look for funding,” Underwood said.

That funding is something Long sees the value of firsthand.

“How do you thank somebody for saving your life? There’s no way I can thank them enough,” Long said.

The Star City Strong Recovery Fund Task Force is recommending millions of dollars of COVID-19 relief in Roanoke go towards mental health and nonprofits, which would benefit the Bradley Free Clinic.

Click here to find out how you can help the clinic.


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