Al Shifa Medical Clinic – Healthcare for All
Al-Shifa Clinic was established in March 2000 in the low-income neighborhood of Muscoy in San Bernardino, California. It was founded by a small group of concerned community members who initially donated an average of $2,000 each of their own money to start up the clinic. The mission of the clinic is to provide free, quality, patient-focused healthcare to all, irrespective of race, religion, ethnicity, or gender and regardless of ability to pay - with the goal of improving the health status of the community it serves.
On October 23, 2011, Al Shifa Medical Clinic is holding its annual fundraiser. Urdu Link Resident Editor Anwar Khawaja (AK) considered the timing of the fundraiser a propitious occasion to talk to the clinic’s director, Dr. Muhammad Aslam (MA), about its working and the multifarious services it is rendering to the residents of Los Angeles and adjoining areas.
AK: What led you to the idea of establishing the clinic and how many people were associated with you at its inception?
MA: The idea came to my mind in 1997 when I came back after living for two-three years in Pakistan. I felt that the United States is providing help all over the world but over here this country was poor in providing medical care to the indigent people. I wanted to play my part as a citizen of the US and provide medical treatment to such people.
I thought untiringly of this idea and soon found that others coming to Darulolum for Friday prayers were seized of this realization. They included Dr. Talat Khan, Mr Shams Hasan and Mr Shakeel Patail and a few other members of the community who had some kind of entity to provide medical care.
Mr. Shakeel Patail informed me that the county had a medical building they wanted to give away and one of the buildings could be acquired for the clinic. At that time the Chairman of Supervisor of the County of San Bernardino, Mr. Jerry, had heart problems and I was treating him. I had put a stent in his artery and he was very happy. He had the powers to make the decision about the building. He happily approved of the transfer but there was another problem. Mr. Patail said that we have to move the building to another location. He discussed this matter with Dr. Nadvi who was the president of Darulolum Islamia. Dr Nadvi was kind enough to give the place on which Al Shifa stands today. The next step was to arrange a fundraiser in Loma Linda and we invited Mr. Jerry and presented the case to the community. We were able to raise 50k and Mr. Jerry donated another 50k from San Bernardino County. So that is how we got the funds and moved to this building and that is how this clinic was started. We went through the name selection and finally it was named Al Shifa.
AK: How many people were affiliated with the clinic initially?
Initially, the number was about ten. Our first meeting was held in the cafeteria at San Bernadine Medical Center. After the fundraiser and taking possession of the building we opened the door of the clinic to the patients on March 4 th 2000. We had great enthusiasm at that time. A lot of physicians in the community were needed to come along and participate: we had about 20 physicians. They were coming all the way from Hemet, Diamond Bar and Riverside and examining the patients. Right from the beginning, although it was a Muslim-established clinic, our mission was basically to provide healthcare to everyone whosoever in the community irrespective of his color, creed or faith. And we thought this was the best way to improve the image of Muslims by doing practical things in the community. Most of the patients that have come to the clinic are of mixed ethnicities, mostly local, predominately Hispanic. Our outreach to the Muslim community - because of the location - somehow has been not that great and this was not the way we expected.
AK: Now you have a Mobile Clinic so that you could reach the Muslim community?
MA: I think that was one of the things that we realized that we were not reaching out to the Muslim community and although there was a great need to reach out to the community, and I think that is where the concept about the mobile clinic came, a type of entity that we can extend this one to the next level. And with the help of ICNA Relief we established this pilot project and we are going to test it in four masjids in the beginning. Inshallah, we will be launching this project in October with this fundraiser on October 23 rdand then we’ll see how this project connects with the Muslim community. We will go to the community. We will let them know the purpose of the clinic and how we are going to execute the project. We will assign a particular day and it will be like a mini health fair. So we will encourage the local physicians community to participate. From my experience a lot of people wanted to help out; for some reason they cannot come out here and maybe in their own locality it will be more convenient for them to lend help.
We will coordinate with physicians; we will coordinate with the local Islamic center. We will like to use part of the center at a time when it is not actively used for worship. Aside from education it could be used as a health facility as well.
AK: What about the special needs of a patient?
MA: That I think we have to see, it is a pilot project and we want to see if it will help to improve the unity in the community as well because we want to use the local resources and once we have identified the patient we want to use local specialists and ask them if they will be able to help out such patients in their own clinics.
AK: If everything goes well, each Mashed can have his own medical room.
MA: I think this is so and probably in the back of our minds but we want to take one step at a time and see how one phase goes and present back to the community and what we have achieved up to that point and if they want to go to the next level that will be where we can help to establish their own entity and we would help to develop that one and move on to the next site.
AK: I think we can help to promote this idea by way of advertising the idea.
MA: I think that will be a tremendous help. People helping people develop a better community. We are here, we have to help our community, and help our country and I think this is something the United States needs. Number two, it would help to improve the image of Muslims. We interact on different levels with other organizations. We have mentioned that Al Shifa Clinic Allhumdullilah is a member of the local community coalition of clinics; there are 10 clinics of different faiths so we are a member of that one. We provide these services - medical, dental, primary care, sub-secondary care, and we encourage them that if they have patients they should send them to us. For example, we have a clinic on S Street. It is a community clinic like any other community clinic and they send us the patients and they are from other races and religions; we treat them and write them recommendations and send them back.
AK: So you also send you patient to specialist clinics?
MA: If we have a patient who needs to see a specialist we communicate to a provider and one of our providers is an optometrist. He is a Sardar. His name is Sat Paul. He has been very helpful like other providers. Then there is the Arrowhead Medical Center and they have been a resource to us and they have been very helpful. One of our grand contributors is Catholic Healthcare West. They have realized we are doing a good job and have provided us with a grant for about 25k a year. Kaiser Permanente has also provided us with a grant to help us in our mission. Thus we have multiple organizations who have come here and are satisfied with our work and have provided us with a multiyear grants. That is how we have survived.
AK: . How many doctors are volunteering their services to this clinic?
MA: I think about ten doctors and eight dentists. Some of the doctors are seeing the patients in their own clinics.