Laura Abernathy has been a volunteer, and later, a part-time employee since Community Free Clinic (CFC) opened in 1994. She is a retired educator in Cabarrus County. She and her husband, Mike, have volunteered at many fundraising events.
She was asked by Dr. David Lockhart to volunteer. They were both serving on a county committee when he recruited her. Her first CFC memory is sitting in a narrow hallway interviewing patients for participation. In those days, EVERY patient was new. She stated that Dr. Lockhart was surprised to see that patients sought out Community Free Clinic as a medical home and not just for short term episodic care. Some volunteers with notable longevity Laura remembers included Sharon Furr, Kitty White, Joyce Starnes, and Jaye B. Lawrence.
Laura stated the most challenging areas of charity healthcare include getting patients to understand the complexity of their chronic health conditions and the importance of preventive care. She said it is challenging to get those WITH insurance to understand the difficulty, risks, and cost of not having access to care. She wishes the community really knew and understood the positive impact Community Free Clinic makes to lives and health by providing access to medical care, medications, health coaching, dental services, orthopedics, podiatry, and other specialty and diagnostic healthcare services.
Some of the patients who are most memorable to Laura include a couple so interdependent that they operated like one person—cute, loving, and somehow sad all at the same time. She also recalls a family with two children with microcephaly who were profoundly mentally handicapped. Last but certainly not least, she recognized the great host of dedicated volunteers who have given of their time and talent.
Laura’s strongest beliefs about Community Free Clinic is that providing healthcare to uninsured individuals SAVES $$ like emergency department visits and hospital admissions that could be prevented. She stated that she believes the interest in charity healthcare seems to be waning due to the assumption that the Affordable CARE Act, Medicaid, and Medicare cover all people or that physician practices or hospitals can just “write it off” if a patient doesn’t one. Lack of healthcare contributes to many social issues such as poverty, homelessness, abuse, and neglect.
Laura said you may be surprised by what she has learned at Community Free Clinic:
- People want to be healthy and adherent with their healthcare treatment
- Patients are extremely appreciative for the healthcare services they receive
- The number of our citizens who have not had any medical care for severe conditions
- The dedication of volunteers and staff who serve Cabarrus County’s unmet healthcare needs.
When asked, Laura thinks the following will impact CFC over the next five years:
- State and national government changes in healthcare
- Opioid crisis will drive changes due to the demographics of those affected being broader than CFC’s current population
CFC will need to expand access to behavioral health services.