In this interview, Nicole Lamoureux shares how the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (NAFC) ensures that underserved communities receive equitable access to quality healthcare.
Listen to the full interview of Nicole Lamoureux with Adam Torres on the Mission Matters Innovation Podcast.
What led you to NAFC, the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics?
Lamoureux says she was always interested in politics, and while working for the National Association of Homebuilders and the American Horse Council after graduating from Catholic University, she realized she wanted to give back more. Around that same time, she was diagnosed with breast cancer; while using her insurance to access the care she needed, she empathized with people who didn't have that privilege.
"Soon after, I started finding free and charitable clinics across the US and ended up building an organization," she explains. What started with just 75 members now includes more than 1,400 participating organizations across the country.
The importance of equitable healthcare
Lamoureux notes that a misconception exists about the Affordable Care Act, which some people presume has given everyone access to health insurance. That's untrue, she says, and as a result, the healthcare landscape is not equitable today: not every employer offers coverage for employees, not all health care plans on the marketplace are affordable, and many people have little to no access to the mental health care, dental care, or prescription medications they need.
She stresses that insurance needs to be more understandable for people, and that health literacy should also be an area of focus. The fact that so many people of color - particularly those who are Black or Indigenous - have different, often deeply suboptimal health care experiences in the US compared to their white counterparts means that "we should recognize the differences and make healthcare more affordable, accessible, and equitable," she says.
Tell us about NAFC and its growth throughout the years.
The National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, or NAFC, is an organization consisting of 1,400 free and charitable clinics and pharmacies across the US. Its more than 200,000 volunteer and staff members provide free and low-cost healthcare to two million patients annually, facilitating 7.6 million patient visits.
NAFC was founded in 2007 with three key elements: Lamoureux as its full-time Executive Director, 75 participating clinics, and a starting budget of $75,000. Today, the staff has quadrupled and its budget has climbed to $8 million, 85 percent of which goes directly back into community programs. The organization has a four-star platinum transparency rating from GuideStar.
Funded through private-public partnerships, foundation grants, and donations from individuals, Lamoureux notes that the NAFC has saved the federal government at least $2.8 billion simply by diverting emergency room visits. For every $1 spent, she explains, a minimum of $5 and a maximum of $36 goes back into community services. When deciding where to build each new clinic, an area-based needs assessment is performed to assess the number of existing paid, free, and federal-qualified health facilities available, as well as the number of volunteers, doctors, and nurses needed to offer their time and energy.
How can people get involved with NAFC clinics in their own communities?
To volunteer at an existing local clinic, Lamoureux recommends visiting nafcclinics.org and filling out the volunteer form. To build a clinic in your community, begin by enrolling online in NAFC's Volunteers in Medicine program to learn how to find partners and start a clinic in your community.
Alongside doctors, nurses, and lab techs, non-medical volunteers are also needed to greet patients, do paperwork, answer phones, look after children onsite, and even provide art for the walls to provide a welcoming atmosphere for patients.
What's next for the NAFC?
Maintaining a commitment to the core mission is vital, Lamoureux explains, and that includes paying attention to seemingly small considerations that can have a huge impact. For example: "We're keeping an eye out to make necessary changes, such as ensuring our clinics have pulse oximeters that work as well on Black patients as they do on white patients," she says, commenting on a recent news story highlighting disparities in care across communities of color. Overall, the NAFC will continue working toward greater health literacy and equity for the medically underserved.
To learn more about the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, visit www.nafcclinics.org.
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