BAY MINETTE – The Alabama Free Clinic in Baldwin County provides their services to qualified patients at no costs, including some medications - provided, the proper requirements are met. AFC Executive Director Laurie Autrey Snyder said many people in Baldwin County could be well served by the clinic’s programs - but may think their income is too high to qualify.
“What we do is provide free health care to the working poor who are chronically ill,” she said. “We’re funded by foundations, grantors, individual donors and fundraisers. We are a walk-in clinic on an appointment-only basis. We recently purchased and now have AED’s (Automated External Defibrillators) and Crash Carts in our clinics, thanks to a recent grant from Holy Name of Jesus Medical Center Grant. We have a volunteer physician and at least two RN’s at each clinic. If there is an emergency in house, we will handle as best we can and get the appropriate care to them as soon as possible.”
She added that many people in Baldwin County without insurance may go to emergency rooms for their non-emergency medical care because they are not aware of the clinic and its three Baldwin locations.
“That’s where we can help relieve the hospital burden of reoccurring ER visits and hospital admits from the uninsured by treating ongoing conditions such as: hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol disorders and COPD through donated resources and medical partnerships. The onsite medical staff, including doctors is all-volunteer,” Snyder said. “Each of the clinic locations also has a working relationship with one of the nearby hospitals.”
The Baldwin clinic’s group has only five employees, including Snyder who is a registered nurse and the only full-time staffer. There are three locations: Bay Minette, Gulf Shores and Robertsdale. The county health department furnishes the space which allows more money to be spent on essential supplies.
“Our volunteers have been caring for Baldwin County residents that have fallen on hard times, do not have insurance and cannot afford the rising cost of health care,” she added. “These community-minded individuals are the heart and soul of our clinic. We invite others to join with them.”
Each of the clinic locations also has a working relationship with one of the nearby hospitals. The Bay Minette office is served by North Baldwin Hospital, The Robertsdale site by Thomas Hospital in Fairhope and the Gulf Shores clinic is assisted by South Baldwin Hospital in Foley. Each hospital can deliver essential testing, such as blood work and more at no cost to the qualified patients. The free-clinic/hospital alliance system also helps keep emergency-room traffic and wait times to a minimum.
Snyder, who has been the director for the last 10 years, recently founded a new organization for giving called the Alabama Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. She is now overseeing 14 such providers around the state and recently received state funding.
“We were able to make a case for support to Senator Orr in Decatur who helped us receive state allocation level from the general fund this year at $215,000,” she said. “And that is distributed between each of those 14 clinics. We are actively contacting our legislators to explain what we do, how we help with healthcare and make a case for Free Clinics. It’s not a lot so far, but it’s a start. Other than that, we don’t get any federal funding. We don’t charge our patients anything. Our mission is to improve the overall health of Baldwin County by providing no-charge medical care and health education programs for adults who are without medical insurance.”
Alabama is only one of 19 states that hasn’t expanded Medicaid. Currently the program in Alabama is funded at the lowest level that the federal government permits. To qualify for Alabama Medicaid, a person must be an adult with a disabled condition or a dependent child. Adult and underage pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid if they and their parents respectively meet income guidelines.
For example, if the head of the household makes $307 per month for a family of three, that earning level is too high to qualify for Medicaid. There are also coverage barriers due to a lack of providers as well as high prevalence of chronic illness. Alabama only has one provider through the Affordable Care Act: Blue Cross Blue Shield. Expensive co-pay costs also mean chronically-ill residents work less and struggle more while maintaining employment and paying monthly bills.
“Our goal is to keep them able to keep working and provide for their family,” Snyder said. “A number of additional goals still need to be achieved. But they are within realization with more community support.”
She said these goals include: More and diversified services for their patients such as expanding into vision, psychiatry and dermatology care; Informing those in need by reaching out to the community; Educating those who serve and ongoing funding. She added that some new employees may have to wait a year after being hired to qualify for company health insurance coverage. And, many who work multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet don’t qualify at all for private-company health care.
Alabama Free Clinic was the first free clinic in the State of Alabama and was founded in Bay Minette in 1998. Dr. Charles Parrott, Dr. William Goetter, Bebe Goetter, RN, Connie Williams and Charles Watterson, MPH comprised the initial Board of Directors. Dr. Goetter, is the president of the board today.
Alabama Free Clinic (AFC) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization providing free medical, dental and vision clinics in Baldwin County. Visit Alabamfreeclinic.org for more information.