Nurse case manager Nicole Valcour wasn’t hired for her IT skills.

But as is the way at the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic, she’s figured it out: helping homeless patients with a shaky Wi-Fi connection, counseling retired volunteers on an iPad set-up from the vacant Barre office.

In a pinch, Valcour has learned to rely on a classic piece of IT advice: turn it off and turn it back on.

“We’re muddling along,” she said. “Everyone’s good humored about it.”

Plugging away, maintaining equanimity, is all part of the ethos — and necessity — of working at one of the state’s nine clinics that provide free health care services to the uninsured and underinsured.

While the state’s hospitals have struggled financially because of the Covid crisis, scrambling to secure federal relief dollars, the free health clinics have continued on, using the same scrappy approach they had long before the pandemic — working on shoestring budgets, with limited staff, largely made up of volunteer medical professionals.

So far, the free clinics — the last line of defense that often operate outside the expensive, sometimes chaotic American health care system — have been able to weather the crisis, but some worry the economic downturn could lead to a surge in demand. continue reading