Social factors such as access to food, housing, and employment play a major role in health outcomes. For several years now, AFC has been integrating screening for “needs beyond the exam room” into our eligibility process to help improve the overall health of our patients. We now have data to back up what our clinical staff already knew about the great the need for services like supplemental food, rental assistance, transportation, and technology. Below are examples of ways AFC has moved beyond our walls to help mitigate systemic challenges our patients and their families face – needs which have only increased since the start of the pandemic.
Alleviating Food Insecurity: Two years ago, Arlington Free Clinic joined forces with three of Arlington’s health safety-net providers – Arlington Pediatric Center, Virginia Hospital Center Outpatient Clinic, and Arlington County’s Maternal & Child Health Clinic – to work to improve community conditions impacting the health of our low-income patients.
One area of focus was food insecurity – a problem that has greatly increased during the pandemic as patients lost their jobs and income. Many patients have serious health conditions that limit their ability to travel to food distributions sites and put them at great risk of poor outcomes should they become infected. Without access to healthy food, families often rely on inexpensive and heavily processed fast food that increases the risk for diabetes, obesity, and other health conditions. AFC and our partners decided that these special populations needed extra help and submitted a request to the Arlington County Board for assistance. I’m happy to report that the County Board approved $400,000 in funding that will allow AFC and our partners to provide eligible families with $200 per month in gift cards for groceries for the next six months. Distribution will begin soon!
Providing Walk-Through Testing: Early in the pandemic, AFC began advocating for a walk-through testing site in South Arlington to serve residents without cars (including many of AFC’s patients) who were unable to utilize the county’s drive-through testing options. Since opening this site in partnership with Arlington County, we’ve tested more than 2,299 people; expanded hours to include evenings and Saturdays; and extended testing to those ages 13 and up (with plans to soon begin testing from age 2).
Advocating for Digital Equity: The pandemic has greatly increased awareness of the importance of digital equity for purposes of communication, health, education, and public safety. AFC is working with community partners to remove barriers to telehealth including lack of internet, lack of computer/tablet/smart phone, technology literacy, privacy, and language barriers.
AFC recently led a workgroup on digital equity for Destination 2027 (the county’s initiative to create a plan to achieve health equity via systems change by 2027) in preparation for a meeting with Arlington County’s new Chief Race & Equity Officer. We believe that increased access to affordable broadband connection for our community will make a major difference for low-income households that currently lack this important resource.