When you drive up to the Al-Shifa Free Health Clinic, there will only be a few cars outside. But when you walk in, you’ll see a full waiting room. Why? Because many of the clients literally walk in.
Al-Shifa has an open-door policy to provide care regardless of race, religion or socio-economic status. They serve primarily low-income and uninsured patients.
Open since 2000, the clinic is on the outskirts of the city of San Bernardino, in a largely Latino area called Muscoy. Nearly a third of all residents live below the poverty line, and many of them do not have cars or access to other transportation. Without a clinic like this close by, checkups would not happen and chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and heart disease would be left untreated.
The website explains that “shifa” is the Arabic word for cure and that the clinic is based on the teachings of Islam ― compassion for the sick and service to those in need.
And they are not alone ― one survey found that there are at least 10 Muslim health clinics that serve the uninsured or underinsured, including non-Muslim-majority communities, throughout the U.S.
Al-Shifa has deepened their commitment to providing medical care for everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
“The best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind.”
[Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) | Daraqutni, Hasan]
About 60 percent of Al-Shifa clients speak only Spanish, so most of the medical staff is bilingual and can translate for doctors who don’t speak Spanish. The staff, as well as the clinic’s volunteer doctors, board members and donors, believe everyone has a right to health care and the right to live a healthy life. It’s very important that there is no communication gap between the physician and the patient.
On a recent morning, a reporter visiting from Zocalo Public Square interviewed a Spanish-speaking gentleman who works as a carpenter and had come in for his regular checkup. He told the reporter that he’s been coming here for a couple of years for help managing his diabetes, that he likes the Al-Shifa doctors and that he can walk to the clinic from home.
“Whoever alleviates the need of a needy person, Allah will alleviate his needs in this world and the Hereafter.”
[Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) | Sahih Muslim]
Al-Shifa relies on medical care volunteers. For example, Dr. Duc Nguyen, who was the scheduled doctor on the day Zocalo came to visit, is an internist by specialty. He sees patients at Al-Shifa for four hours every Friday, donating his time. He is currently employed at Kaiser and has been there for many years.
The clinic relies on people like him to provide a high level of care. The rest of our staff is also made up primarily of volunteers as well as interns from Job Corps, the career technical training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The annual budget is tiny ― just $240,000. Most of the funding comes through private donors, with additional support from Kaiser Permanente and the city of San Bernardino. Everything here was donated: the parking lot, the building, the staff and medical equipment.
The 5,000-square-foot clinic houses 19 exam rooms, but despite its size, it is a modular building that manages to accommodate the patients’ needs. Al-Shifa Clinic would certainly benefit from a permanent facility, but funding is limited and the goal for now is to make the most of what they have.
The clinic has between 30 to 45 doctors volunteering each month and sees about 200 patients a month on the medical side. They try to offer everything under one roof.
They offer both primary and specialty care, including cardiology, pulmonology, neurology, physical medicine, nephrology, orthopedic surgery, phlebotomy and rheumatology. The clinic also offers gynecology services, free mammograms and pediatric care, as well as a low-cost dental clinic.
The spirit of service here goes to the heart of what good medicine is about.
In addition, the clinic provides preventive care and wellness education, including support to help quit smoking and to help deal with diabetes and weight management. They offer EKGs, echocardiograms and cardiac stress testing ― free of charge, as well as a program on how to maintain a healthy diet and keep up a regular exercise regimen. Since many of the clients have not had regular access to health care in the past, by the time they come to them, their health has deteriorated, and they have developed other complications. They do all they can to help but they are also working on prevention.
Working at Al-Shifa has taught the workers how to connect with people and how to handle challenging tasks. Al-Shifa has deepened their commitment to providing medical care for everyone, regardless of ability to pay. No one should be denied this precious service, and they am honored to serve this community.