By Saja Hindi

Phil Ford has always been interested in the state of the health care system, but he only learned about the funding problems free health clinics face a couple of months ago. And when he did, he decided to do something about it.

Phil Ford & Dean Smith
Phil Ford with former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith. Photo courtesy

Phil Ford is a well-liked former UNC Chapel Hill basketball player who played in the 1975 Olympics, turned pro in 1979, and retired in 1985. He returned to North Carolina to help coach the UNC Chapel Hill’s men’s basketball team from 1988 to 2000, helping lead the team to a national title in 1993.

His organization, the Phil Ford Foundation is hosting a breakfast Wednesday in the auditorium of Louisburg College to benefit Franklin County’s Volunteers in Medicine clinic.

“This is going to have a long-term impact for the free clinic world,” said Beverly Kegley, executive director for Franklin County Volunteers in Medicine. “Phil is sort of shifting the focus of his foundation to the uninsured, and we have long needed a face.”

Ford’s goal is to raise $10 million a year for the NC Association of Free Clinics.

“Phil Ford wants to use the platform he has, so people understand just how serious it is,” said Alex Ford,vice president of the Phil Ford Foundation and Phil’s cousin.

“The situation of the uninsured who cannot receive healthcare affects not only the people who can’t receive it but the entire economy, and that’s why all people should be concerned,” Alex said.

Kegley said she hopes people begin to see what Phil Ford has about free health clinics.

“I see our patients all the time, and i want other patients to see just how serious this problem is, and how our patients are our next door neighbors or who you sat next to in Church last Sunday or they may be a relative who doesn’t have insurance,” she said.

Ninety-five percent of patients the Franklin County Volunteers in Medicine see come from working family homes. Since its opening in Jan. 2005, Kegley said the clinic — which also has a pharmacy — has seen 2,346 patients for 18,020 visits.

Ramping up visibility

Alex said the Phil Ford Foundation originally started with a focus on childhood obesity, but has evolved to reflect Ford’s interest in the uninsured.

“We want to engage all the hospitals across the state. We want to engage all businesses, small or large, across the state,” Alex said. “If they don’t support (the uninsured), there will be the trickle down effect that hurts the bottom line business operations.”

Hospitals are legally mandated to treat patients in emergencies, despite their financial situations.


“But because the uninsured don’t have insurance, they’re not going to get regular check-ups because they can’t afford it,” Alex said. “So they’re typically going to go to an emergency room when it’s an emergency.”

But, Ford said, when a patient can’t pay, hospitals absorb the bills, in turn raising prices for every patient. As a result of those raised prices, health insurance companies’ prices go up.

“Insurance will be even more costly for the small business owner,” Alex said. “So right now, the economy is slowly trying to recover. Think about what would happen if free clinics were gone. It would affect everyone else and it would affect the economy.”

Wearing gray for uninsured

To promote awareness of people who are uninsured, Kegley said staff in her clinic chose the color gray to represent them after asking people when she and others talked to groups what their favorite color was.

“Nobody ever picked gray,” Kegley said. “But then when you asked how many people have gray in their wardrobes, almost everyone did.”

She said anything between black and white is gray, and like highways, skyscrapers and other infrastructure, they all have a shade of gray.

“Our people, our uninsured are the infrastructure of our society; they’re not bums that don’t want to work,” Kegely said.

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Saja Hindi has worked for various news organizations through jobs or internships in North Carolina, including the daily Wilmington newspaper, the Star News; the Union County Weekly; and WUNC, the local...