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Renovations underway at the Free Clinic in downtown Lynchburg
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Renovations underway at the Free Clinic in downtown Lynchburg

Amid the construction work of Lynchburg’s Main Street Renewal Project, the Free Clinic of Central Virginia has joined in getting a facelift.

Plans for renovating the clinic started with the health care nonprofit’s 2015 strategic plan, according to CEO Christina Delzingaro, but the Free Clinic held off on fundraising while the Community Health Center was being built on 5th Street.

Within a year, that new satellite location was at capacity two days out of the week, and by 2019 it was at capacity during most of the work week, she said. The Free Clinic, which has a budget funded mainly by donations and grants, has provided comprehensive health care to uninsured and underinsured people in Lynchburg and surrounding counties since 1987. Its location on Main Street opened in 1992, and it shares the Community Health Center with other community healthcare partners.

Between the downtown and 5th Street locations, Delzingaro said, the Free Clinic is seeing about 9,000 patients per year.

“We’re at capacity at our new location and the city and [Appalachian Power is] doing all this work on Main Street; this is really the perfect time to make this space more functional for us,” she said.

The now-defunct pharmacy in the downtown location will be transformed into two private offices, where providers and volunteers can meet with patients for behavioral healthcare, and a classroom space. Delzingaro said the classroom will be a place where patients can learn more about health topics like diabetes, stress reduction, hypertension, women’s health and participate in group therapy.

The additional office space for behavioral health will help the Free Clinic integrate those services and refer patients immediately to that care, she said.

Exam rooms will be upgraded with more modern and efficient lighting equipment and new flooring. The entrance will move to the middle of the building and the side facing Main Street will have bigger windows, with brick on the exterior.

“It’s going to be more in keeping with the architecture of our downtown than what we currently have,” which is a façade built when the facility was a credit card processing center, she said.

The coronavirus pandemic brought about some changes and challenges, according to Delzingaro: patient flow had to be adjusted to allow for social distancing, more patients lost access to health insurance and telehealth use boomed.

She said it’s largely benefited the Free Clinic — virtual health visits are more convenient for patients who tend to open up more and they allow for remote learning for medical students. Precautions borne from the pandemic also have led to more efficient scheduling and longstanding accommodations for staff in telework.

The Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation’s Century Fund grant provided the Free Clinic with $100,000 that “really kicked us off,” after it was awarded in the summer, Delzingaro said.

Bill Bodine, president and CEO of the Greater Lynchburg Community Foundation, said it was important for the first recipient of that grant to be a nonprofit that people immediately recognized would be a good choice for the funding.

“The facts that the Free Clinic helps so many people in the entire region, their ability to take some pressure off the hospital system during the pandemic, and the need for renovation for the future made our choice a relatively simple one,” he said.

The renovation project has a total bill of about $750,000, with another large chunk of the funds raised in a capital campaign, Delzingaro said. The clinic is aiming to raise the last $150,000 by the end of the year and see the end of work in February, around when Main Street Renewal Project work is expected to start wrapping up in that area.

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