Anyone who has visited or lived in or around Rockbridge County knows it is an area of immense natural beauty coupled with cultural and intellectual opportunities. With its population of approximately 36,000 and three institutions of higher learning the location gives the appearance of wealth. The continued influx of new residents and retirees from all over the county tends to accentuate that appearance. However, beneath the appearance of wealth exists a substrata of significant poverty.
The City of Buena Vista has traditionally been and remains a working-class town with most jobs affiliated with industry. Rockbridge County, with the exception of the colleges, is primarily rural with an economy based on farming. Both ways of life have changed little over the last fifty years. Many of these residents are uninsured or underinsured. In an attempt to meet the needs of this segment of the population, the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic was established in the early 1990’s.
In 1992 a group of concerned citizens began to develop the concept of a free clinic in Rockbridge County. They were able to organize interested medical and non-medical community volunteers in a project that became the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic. The first clinic was located in the local public health department and continued to grow with the patients it served and the services it provided.
The Rockbridge Area Free Clinic, recognizing the need to further develop a sustainable system of care for the medically underserved in the Rockbridge area, applied for and was awarded an $80,000 Health Center Planning Grant by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. This grant was used to fund a 12-month project to broadly define and assess the health of our community and to develop a community health improvement plan.
Data from the community health needs assessment concluded that Buena Vista, Lexington, and Rockbridge County areas are designated as low-income and are therefore considered to be a ‘Medically Underserved Population’ and a ‘Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area’. “Low-income” is defined by HRSA as an income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. In the Rockbridge area, 38 % of residents are low-income.
As a result of the community health needs assessment, RAHC was designated as a federally-qualified Community Health Center and expanded its services to provide medical, dental and behavioral health care to everyone. As a Community Health Center, RAHC provides comprehensive, high-quality, accessible and affordable healthcare that is coordinated, culturally competent and community directed for the insured, underinsured and uninsured. American Community Survey, 5-Year Estimates, US Census Bureau, 2006-2010  Virginia Atlas of Community Health, 2011