A CAPN volunteer nurse works with a young patient at the clinic. (Photo by Isadora Pennington)

By Isadora Pennington

In 2015, over 28 million Americans age 65 and under did not have health insurance, and that number could increase if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is reformed or repealed by Congress. As government-funded aid to low income families drops off, many clinics and organizations that provide care are seeing an increase in patients.

One of those organizations is Community Advanced Practice Nurses (CAPN), a local nonprofit made up of medical professionals who help those in the most need, including women, children, the homeless and members of the LGBTQ community. CAPN operates eight clinics in the Atlanta area, with all but the main office located within shelters.

CAPN was founded in 1998 by members of the Georgia Nurses Foundation Women and Children’s Clinic. Today, the clinics provide aid to around 3,000 people per year. Of those people, roughly 70 percent are women and 40 percent are children. An estimated 25 people come through the doors of any given clinic daily, seeking physical and mental healthcare, as well as providing patient education about healthy lifestyle choices. The clinic also offers 500 hours of student training for aspiring nursing students through a residency program at Morehouse College, as well as training for students from Emory University and Georgia State University.

Services available through the CAPN clinics include vaccinations, physical exams, assessments, gynecologic care, reproductive care, breast exams, family planning, STI testing, psychological counseling, and substance abuse counseling. Many of those who seek aid through these centers have no money or other recourse, and these services fill a vital need for anything that an Emergency Room visit would not be able to address.

“We don’t turn anybody away,” said director Connie Buchanan, who has been with CAPN since its inception.
The clinic is always operating at capacity, and nurses filter in day after day, tending to walk in patients and their families with the kind of personalized care one wouldn’t expect to find in a low-income facility.

Buchanan said many clinics operating in metro Atlanta and across the country find themselves at risk now, with foundation support disappearing in the wake of ACA reform. Fortunately, CAPN is structured in such a way that the clinic is able to “follow the need, rather than follow the money,” as Buchanan puts it.

Their meager funding is just enough to get by, but it also prevents CAPN from fully addressing every division and group that needs extensive help. Avoiding “mission creep” remains at the forefront of the clinic’s modus operandi; they must constantly reevaluate to ensure that they don’t stray too far from their core values and spread their resources too thin to effectively help their clients. Additionally, the needs of their clientele have changed and shifted throughout the years. “Just when you think you understand the situation, something changes,” Buchanan said.

Despite the anxiety surrounding the repeal of ACA and decreased funding for CAPN and similar institutions, the clinic is not a depressing place. The vibe is familial and compassionate, and the passion of the providers who work there is palpable.

“Our patients have so much hope, it gives us hope,” explained Buchanan, who says she often finds herself feeling tired and perhaps sad, but not hopeless. “At the end of the day, I can see that I did something.”

To find out more CAPN, visit capn.org or call (404) 658-1500.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.