About 7,000 uninsured people are living in Rockbridge and Alleghany counties and for more than a decade, they've depended on the free health clinic in the area.

As of this week, the Rockbridge Area Free Clinic no longer open.

The free clinic reopened as a federally qualified health clinic, thanks to a grant. This means the clinic will stay where it is, but it will offer new and better services at a minimal cost to patients.

It’s a major project in the making inside the walls of the Rockbridge Area Health Center.

"Obviously, at this point, we are in the middle of construction so we're adding a bunch of things," said development director Katy Datz.

Now known as the Rockbridge Area Health Clinic, the new facility will offer a medical lab, dental lab and new technology. It will also have four new exam rooms to increase the services they provide.

Datz said the goal is to double the number of patients within the first year its open.

"There is a real need,” said CEO Suzanne Sheridan. “We are considered a medically underserved community."

Sheridan said she's seen it firsthand during her time at the free clinic.

"When you don't have money and you're sick and you're making difficult choices, you have children to feed, rent to pay people delay health care and taking care of themselves until they have a medical emergency,” she said.

"It opens your eyes,” said Lexington City Manager Jon Ellestad. “It opens your eyes to things you don’t think about and the needs of people that aren’t properly covered.”

The decision to transition from a free clinic to a federally qualified clinic has not been an easy one.

After receiving the grant money, the clinic had 120 days to become fully operational up to federal standards and there's still a lot of work to be done.

"It sounds like a nice healthy grant and it is and we are happy to have it but the renovations are an additional piece that we need to raise locally,” said Sheridan.

The clinic needs to come up with $250,000 on its own to complete the renovations.

The health providers said the renovations and improvements will increase and expand health services to almost anyone and everyone in the surrounding areas.

Leaders have faith that the investment now will pay off in the long run.

"If we can sell businesses coming in with quality health care that's universally available it’s always a good thing,” said Rockbridge County Administrator Spencer Suter.

Sheridan said she knew health care would become an issue for many after the Affordable Care Act became a law and they are hoping this clinic will fill that void.

So far, they are three months into the project. They hope to have the renovations complete by mid-April.

The only other federally qualified clinics in the area are located in Roanoke, Harrisonburg and Nelson County.

If you would like to help with construction costs, call 540-464-8700 or send checks to Rockbridge Area Health Center, PO Box 1573, Lexington, VA.