As health care costs increase in Minnesota and the uninsured rise in number, the Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM) has taken the role as a first-access, primary care clinic for anyone who needs it, through the Al-Shifa Clinic.
“It is our Islamic duty to address the issue of providing people with equal access to health care. We serve anyone in the community, both Muslim and non-Muslim,“ asserts Sobia Sarwar, full time coordinator for Al Shifa Clinic.
After hiring Sarwar, now the clinic’s committed doctors that serve walk-in and scheduled patients can concentrate on health care and not have to worry about administrative tasks like before.
She adds, “It's the volunteer doctors that really make it happen. Without their skillset we really would not be able to contribute to the community. The fact that they dedicate their time and effort is enormous.”
Sarwar works in the banking industry, but she says that her most rewarding job is her role as coordinator for Al Shifa Clinic. Her two young sons also attend the Sunday school in the same building.
The Al-Shifa clinic is nestled within the front office of the ICM, a separate room that is medically equipped with its own restroom, patient’s table, medical supplies and a variety of diagnostic tools. Yet the clinic’s reach extends much farther, and other services unfold beyond the physical clinic itself.
Sarwar carries a cell phone specifically dedicated to the clinic in order to take calls seven days a week from patients, Al Shifa physicians, cooperating pharmacies and medical laboratories. She also prepares the physician’s rota, and creates fliers and brochures to announce health awareness seminars.
When patients arrive at the Al Shifa Clinic for care, they are saved from the red tape of having to fill out income and insurance verification. They simply give their name, contact information, and fill out a medical history form.
When asked why patients are not required to go through the rigorous paperwork and verifications required by many medical institutions and insurance companies, Sarwar says, “..because we feel that no matter what a patient’s circumstances are, that healthcare should be made available to all, no questions asked.”
The Al Shifa Clinic serves all socioeconomic, cultural and religious groups. They support health efforts for the benefit of Muslims, non-Muslims, immigrants and native born American’s equally. Although the Al Shifa Clinic is open to everyone, it is expected that the Twin Cities Muslim community may seek out care here more than others due to special circumstances that make their situation unique.
“Due to social and religious differences, many families hesitate to access health care in the communities they live, regardless of the insurance or their financial status,” says an Al Shifa Clinic physician who wishes to remain anonymous. He also notes that many families have visiting relatives who are uninsured and as a function of their age need access to cheap and efficient health care.
The Al Shifa Clinic physician notes, “As the immigrant population assimilates into American culture, unfortunately they absorb the same poor lifestyle and eating habits as the surrounding society.” He says that with time health care habits deteriorate and so does the basic understanding of disease. “Our community needs basic education in health care matters in order to improve long-term health outcomes.” He says that this can mean the difference between an elevated standard of living over time because of good health choices, or a radically declining lifestyle in which the patient is always in crisis-mode.
“Al Shifa Clinic should strive to be committed to promoting a healthy community to assist families making healthy choices according to cultural and religious norms,” says the Al Shifa Clinic physician. To address community education needs, the Al Shifa Clinic will be holding public health seminars which include topics such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and including cancer screening and nutrition counseling.
The first health seminar sponsored by the Al-Shifa Clinic will be on Colon Cancer Screening. Dr Irfan Sandozi, from MN Gastroenterology, will be the lead speaker. Topics for forthcoming health seminars include hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol , women’s health , children’s health , and immunizations. All seminars will take place on Sundays.
By becoming a first-access health care model, Al Shifa Clinic is moving away from its previous basic health care model in order to provide a more comprehensive solution for ailing patients.
Al Shifa Clinc’s first-access resource would serve in identifying health issues, providing immediate and basic medical care, consultation and refer patients to any other existing services in the community at a low cost. Al Shifa Clinic currently has 4 committed physicians and 1 non physician member active in the community and dedicated to making this project an ongoing success.