In the late 1990’s our founders, Drs. Russell Sacco and Irwin Perlmutter, began discussing the need for a free clinic to care for those without access to care in Henderson County, NC. For several years, they networked with their peers, making the case, garnering support, and recruiting leadership who became the first steering committee. Drs. Sacco and Perlmutter grew familiar with the free clinic movement in North Carolina and began to create a model for a local free clinic that would use volunteers to provide care to those in need. The steering committee held public meetings to learn more about the needs in Henderson County and found that there were a significant number of adults who were not receiving medical care. Early clinic leaders also found that there was a large group of healthcare professionals who were willing to give their time and talent to provide care.
On 13 December 2001, TFC opened its doors and saw its first patients at a walk-in Medical Clinic. TFC saw seven patients that night and grew quickly through word of mouth. The clinic initially met – and still meets – from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday evenings.
Because the walk-in medical clinic saw many patients whose needs were not being met through other services, it quickly became clear that TFC needed to help “bridge those gaps”. TFC added clinics specifically designed to bridge identified gaps in service.
Nationally, our understanding about what affects our health is evolving. We are talking about health more broadly, coming to understand that health starts–long before illness–in our homes, schools, and jobs. Scientists have found that the conditions in which we live and work have an enormous impact on our health, long before we ever see a doctor. In fact, they determine up to 80% of our health.
We are also coming to understand that becoming healthy takes three things. The first is ensuring that everyone can afford to see a doctor when they are sick. The second is making preventative care (like screening for cancer and heart disease) available to people who otherwise cannot get these critical screenings. The third is changing our thinking, from health as something we get at the doctor’s office to health as something that starts in our families, in our schools and workplaces, in our playgrounds and parks, and in the air we breathe and the water we drink. The more you see health in this way, the more opportunities you have to improve it.
TFC is actualizing these three criteria for health. For over 15 years, thanks to your support, our 280 amazing volunteers, and our 170 tremendous healthcare partners, TFC has worked to address the first criterion for health–ensuring that everyone can see a doctor when they are sick. Over the past several years, we have expanded our emphasis on the second criterion–offering more and more wellness screenings. In 2015 we began to expand how we think about health–how to keep it, not just how to get it back.
At TFC, we know that many of our patients don’t have the same opportunities to be as healthy as others. In the summer of 2015, we launched our Patient Health Advocacy program. We are focusing on three dimensions (food, housing, and transportation) that are the three biggest barriers to our patients’ health. We also recognize that there are many other social factors that play a role in how healthy a person can be such as educational and job opportunities, public safety, and physical hazards.
Together, we care for our neighbors in need. Together, we create communities that are healthy places to live, work, learn and play, for our neighbors in need and for ourselves.