Muslim-Americans give back to the community by opening free health clinic
Syracuse, N.Y. — A group of Muslim-Americans has opened a free health clinic for uninsured adults on Syracuse’s South Side.
The Rahma Health Clinic, which recently opened its doors at 3100 S. Salina St., is open 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays. Rahma is an Islamic word that means mercy.
The Muslim religion places a strong emphasis on giving back to the community’s less fortunate, said Dr. Mustafa Awayda, the clinic’s volunteer medical director. That belief was the catalyst behind starting the clinic.
“We’re so fortunate because we have wonderful lives in the area, great jobs and we wanted to give back,” said Awayda, who works at the Syracuse VA Medical Center.
He and other Muslim Americans formed a nonprofit, the Muslim American Care and Compassion Alliance, which purchased a vacant former doctor’s office at 3100 S. Salina St. in 2009.
It took much longer than expected to open because the clinic applied for and received certification from the state under Article 28 of the state public heath law. Even though the clinic is operated entirely by volunteers and funded by donations, it had to comply with the same regulations that apply to hospitals and other major health facilities.
“Our policy on infection control alone is 59 pages,” Awayda said.
But he believes the extra work involved in becoming certified was worth it.
“It’s great to be able to say we passed all the scrutiny and regulations of the state,” he said.
The certification also means doctors who volunteer at the clinic will receive free medical malpractice insurance coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act, he said. The certification also will make it easier for the clinic to apply for grants.
So far the clinic has four doctors, two nurse practitioners, a social worker and an administrator – all volunteers.
Rahma is not a walk-in clinic like Syracuse’s two other free health clinics, Amaus Health Services in downtown Syracuse and the Poverello Health Center on the North Side. Patients must call 565-5667 to make appointments.
Eventually Awayda said the clinic’s goal is to operate every weekday and for a few hours on Saturdays.
The group decided to locate the clinic on the South Side after doing research that showed a disproportionate number of people who live in that part of the city are admitted to hospitals for preventable illnesses such as high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, asthma and pneumonia.
Awayda sees patient education as one of the clinic’s most important roles.
“We tell people, ‘Come get your sugar checked. Come get your blood pressure checked. Do something before you end up in the hospital,’” he said.
Last summer the clinic and people from the neighborhood planted a fruit and vegetable garden. The aim of the garden is to teach people on the South Side the importance of healthy eating. The clinic is in a neighborhood where there are plenty of fast food restaurants, but few places to buy fresh produce, Awayda said.
The clinic’s social worker helps people find out if they are eligible for Medicaid or other health insurance programs. The clinic also helps patients who need prescription medications find low-cost generic drugs.
Mohamed Khater, who is president of the Islamic Society of Central New York, serves as chair of the clinic’s board.
“We as Muslims want to give back to our community,” he said.
While most of the Muslim-Americans who started the clinic are members of the Islamic Society, the clinic in not a religious organization and is separate from the Islamic Society, he said. The clinic is open to everyone and seeks volunteers of all faiths, he said.
Magda Bayoumi, Khater’s wife, said the clinic hopes to eventually expand to include dentistry and other services.
“We’re hoping for the moon, but we’ve started out taking small steps,” she said. “Failure is not an option.”[divider]