Americares report — 40 percent of visits to free clinic are for heart problems

Forty percent of all patient visits to free clinics – two out of every five visits – are for cardiovascular disease, according to clinics surveyed by the Stamford-based global health and disaster relief organization AmeriCares. AmeriCares operates three clinics in Connecticut, in Bridgeport, Danbury and Norwalk.

The online survey was sent to 318 free and charitable clinics that receive donated medicines and supplies from AmeriCares U.S. Medical Assistance Program to better inform its donations of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. More than half of the clinics responded to the survey, representing 18 percent of all free clinics nationwide.

In addition to those suffering from heart disease, clinic officials also reported 50 percent of their patients have high blood pressure – much higher than national averages for the uninsured. Nationwide, 20 percent of uninsured adults in the U.S. have hypertension, according to the latest U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. AmeriCares is releasing the findings today to raise awareness about the prevalence of heart disease among free clinic patients during American Heart Month.

“While it’s been well documented that low-income, uninsured Americans are disproportionately affected by chronic disease, the survey results are startling because of the degree of disparity,” said AmeriCares Director of U.S. Programs Leslie McGuire in a press release. “More research needs to be done to determine why so many free clinic patients have heart disease so that interventions specific to this vulnerable population can be developed.”

The survey backs up a previous AmeriCares study that identified caring for patients with heart disease as a major burden for safety net clinics. Clinic directors surveyed in 2011 ranked cardiovascular medicines as among their top needs, second only to diabetes medications. The AmeriCares 2011 survey of free clinics nationwide found more than half were forced to turn away eligible patients due to resource constraints such as limited medical and support staff, expensive lab tests and medications, inadequate facility space and declining financial support.

Amanda Cuda