By Dylan Campfield
the Carrboro Commons
Despite the results of the healthcare issues in this year’s election, Carrboro and the surrounding areas can still benefit from the invaluable resource that is SHAC, the Student Health Action Coalition.
Nestled away on Lloyd Street, SHAC functions as a free clinic led by students from UNC’s School of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, and Social Work.
Founded in 1967, SHAC was “originally conceived as a clinic to provide care for racial minorities in the Chapel Hill area during the Civil Rights movement, then evolved into a free urgent care clinic for anyone,” says Andrew Parker Morgan, one of the two clinic coordinators at SHAC.
Morgan, a medical student at UNC, and his colleague Alex Sherman, are just two of the volunteers at SHAC each Wednesday.
“In order to be eligible to volunteer [at SHAC], people have to be a current UNC student, and that’s largely a liability insurance concern,” says Morgan.
That’s because all of the students from UNC who volunteer at the clinic are insured by UNC’s malpractice insurance, and are only allowed to practice at the clinic under the supervision of an attending physician from the Department of Family Medicine at UNC.
In fact, UNC’s Department of Family Medicine has made it compulsory for their residents to volunteer at SHAC a certain number of times per year during their second and third year of residency.
The clinic sees patients with a variety of health issues, but isn’t staffed or equipped to handle everything thrown at them.
“We don’t do continuing patient care,” Morgan says, mostly due to the clinic only being open one day a week. “We see mostly people who have some acute sickness or are here for preventative measures like HIV testing, STDs, or vaccines.”
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) and STDs are the biggest issues that the clinic can diagnose, but they often see a “bucket full of things the clinic is not able to work out in one visit,” says Morgan.
UTIs and STDs also top the list of issues commonly seen at the clinic. Both of these health concerns are frequent in the 18-35 age group, the clinic’s main demographic.
Other visitors to the clinic are “half women, about 30 percent Hispanic and 40 percent ‘other’ that didn’t fill it out on their forms,” says Morgan. According to the Town of Carrboro’s website, “Carrboro has the highest Hispanic/Latino population in Orange County with 2,062.” Taking data from the US 2010 Census, Carrboro’s population is 19,582 citizens, bringing the Hispanic population to 10.5 percent.
Morgan says most patients who come are uninsured or under-insured, but others with insurance have used the clinic for the comfort of keeping sensitive things confidential and off of an insurance bill.
One patient, who requested anonymity, revealed she had gone to the clinic to be tested after having been drugged at a bar in Chapel Hill the night before.
“The staff was very comforting and supportive,” the patient says. “They saw me very quickly with no appointment and minimal paperwork. I felt more comfortable with the anonymity at a clinic than seeing a family doctor.”
But because this is a free clinic, the money to cover SHAC’s $35,000 per year budget has to come from somewhere.
SHAC receives funding from a variety of sources, from benefactors who help keep this institution free for the uninsured and under-insured.
“Technically we’re a student organization at UNC, not an independent 501(c)(3),” Morgan says. Therefore the clinic receives money from the UNC School of Medicine Student Government, as well as grants from the N.C. Association of Free Clinics, private grants, and donations that come in from year to year.
Accumulated donations over the course of SHAC’s 40-year history has given them an endowment that is currently almost half a million dollars. “Our single biggest source is an endowment maintained for SHAC by the Medical Alumni Association of NC,” says Morgan.
Sustainability has always been an issue. Morgan reveals at various points the clinic has struggled to stay afloat because the student leaders change from year to year.
“The same people also don’t volunteer every single week,” explains Morgan, “so imagine SHAC like running a fairly complex medical center, but with a new group of employees every time you do it.” Understandably, this makes the clinic sometimes chaotic and the visits for patients last a long time.
“We’re here six hours every Wednesday, sometimes longer, and see between 10-15 patients a week with 30 volunteers in the building, so we’re not that efficient,” admits Morgan.
Even so, the clinic remains completely free and open to anyone who walks in. “We don’t discriminate on the ability to pay, and for those who can, we even make referrals to continuing care elsewhere if the patient needs it,” says Morgan.
With the continued support and the services provided to the community, Morgan and Sherman hope to see SHAC flourish in Carrboro for years to come.
The SHAC clinic is located at 301 Lloyd Street in Carrboro and is open Wednesday evenings. Appointments can be scheduled on the SHAC website and made between 5:30 and 8 p.m.