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New Arlington Free Clinic CEO upbeat about the future

Organization is 'a leader in the commonwealth,' Lesley Daigle says
Arlington Free Clinic CEO Lesley Daigle speaks at the February meeting of the Kiwanis Club of South Arlington.

As a nurse and administrator at VHC Health (Virginia Hospital Center) for the past decade, Lesley Daigle was well-versed in the vital role played by the Arlington Free Clinic.

And as the clinic’s CEO since the start of the year, she is quickly gaining an even deeper understanding of its importance.

“I knew [the free clinic] was remarkable, but I had no idea how much until I started,” Daigle said during a Feb. 15 presentation at the Kiwanis Club of South Arlington.

The free clinic “is really a leader in the commonwealth, a role model for others,” she said.

Founded 30 years ago and today supporting about 1,400 clients from offices in the Columbia Pike neighborhood, the clinic’s services over the decades have expanded from rudimentary to comprehensive, Daigle said.

“Our model is to be a health-care home,” she said, where “all of the needs can be taken care of in one place.”

The clinic receives no federal funds and only modest funding from the state and local governments; 90 percent of its support comes from private sources.

In addition to the clinic’s staff – “we have an awesome group,” Daigle said – efforts are supported by a corps of 350 volunteers, from physicians and other medical professionals to interpreters (60% to 70% of patients are Spanish-speaking, with other well-represented languages including Mongolian and Amharic).

Daigle’s journey to the free clinic – and to the health-care profession in general – was an untraditional one. Her career started as an attorney, but she left her law practice in 2010 and attended nursing school. At VHC Health, Daigle rose through the ranks to successive administrative positions before being tapped late last year to succeed Nancy White, who served a dozen years as head of the Arlington Free Clinic. (The clinic and the hospital organization work collaboratively but are not otherwise directly connected.)

Despite expansion of initiatives to support those with low incomes or facing other barriers to health care, free-clinic leaders estimate that between 4,000 and 7,000 Arlington residents fall through gaps in program eligibility and rely on services like they provide.

“There is no foreseeable future where we would not need the Arlington Free Clinic,” Daigle said.

During a question-and-answer session, concerns were raised that many of Arlington’s social-safety-net agencies seem to operate in their own “silos” without a great deal of collaboration. Daigle said efforts are in the works to try and change that. Health, she noted, can be impacted by upstream factors like housing and transportation availability, and keeping vulnerable populations in good health has broader societal impacts.

“If we can keep our entire community healthy, it is a tremendous impact for us all,” she said.

A 30th-anniversary celebration is slated for Oct. 19, with special events taking place throughout the year.

For information about the organization, and volunteer opportunities, see the Website at