What is a Free Clinic?

What is a free clinic?

A free clinic is a private, nonprofit, community-based organization that provides medical care at little or no charge to low-income, uninsured or underinsured persons through the use of volunteer healthcare professionals and partnerships with other health providers.  North Carolina has over 75 free clinics, more than any other state in the country.  There are approximately 1,200 free clinics nationwide.  The first free clinics in the US were organized in California in 1967.

Common characteristics of free clinics:

  • Community-based:  No two free clinics are alike.  They are custom-designed by communities to meet the identified healthcare needs of that community, using the community’s unique healthcare assets and resources.  Free clinics are governed by volunteer Boards of Directors representing a cross-section of the local community.
  • Private, Nonprofit:  Free clinics are private, nonprofit organization supported primarily by cash and in-kind contributions from the private sector
  • Volunteer-driven:  Volunteerism is a central feature of free clinics.  Free clinic services are provided primarily or exclusively by volunteer healthcare professionals serving in the clinic’s own facility and/or in their own private practice setting.  Lay volunteers also perform a variety of administrative and clerical tasks, thus keeping overhead costs lower.
  • Target low-income, uninsured and underinsured adults:  In North Carolina, low-income, uninsured and underinsured adults have the greatest difficulty accessing affordable healthcare services.  While eligibility criteria vary from one to the next, free clinics conduct rigorous eligibility screening to ensure that the patients they serve are truly in need.
  • Little or no charge:  Free clinics believe that inability to pay should not prevent people from receiving quality healthcare.  To this end, free clinics provide services at little or no charge.
  • Compassionate care:  Free clinics place strong emphasis on providing non-judgmental, compassionate care, respecting the dignity and self-worth of every patient.