Across the street from the post office in Chantilly, VA, right off Route 28 is the ADAMS-Sully Center. It can be spotted by the army of The Cleaning Authority company cars parked in the shared parking lot. Next to the masjid is the new health clinic for the ADAMS Compassionate Health Network (ACHN). ACHN is a volunteer-based operation dedicated to providing quality healthcare to community members in need, driven by the very large and growing number of those in Northern Virginia who are low income and uninsured.
“Allah’s Shifa is like the rain and the doctors are the clouds,” says Pulmonologist Dr. Yahya Alvi, a board member and the heart behind the operation, “and insurance is a barrier, we are stopping the rain. We have to go around the barrier. Come here, pay us no money and let it rain.”
“The idea started a couple of years back, that we should have a place where we can treat people who can not have insurance,” says Dr. Alvi. Several years ago, Dr. Alvi was ADAMS Director of Health Education and Training. “We zoomed on this project,” he recalls.
He consulted with several existing clinics: the MCC Clinic in Silver Springs, MD, Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic in Herndon, VA. Dr. Alvi attended a free clinic conference in Chicago. The majority of free and charitable clinics serve adults who are uninsured, low income, and who do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare. “Unfortunately, Virginia has declined to implement portions of the healthcare reform bill--Obamacare. Thousands of Virginia residents will still have no affordable access to healthcare. This fact makes our clinic's mission that much more important,” says Dr. Alvi.
Dr Alvi adds,“making a free clinic was not a simple process, between insurance and licensing.” The site was bought by ADAMS Center: half is occupied by ADAMS Center-Sully and the other half is rented for a dollar by the clinic. It took three months to collect equipment and make the clinic functionable.
In May 2013, a fundraiser hosted by Dr. Maqsood Chowdhury, D.D.S. Vice President of the ACHN Board, set the wheels in motion. Six months later the clinic saw its first patients, on November 23, 2013.
The board consists of Drs. Yahya Alvi, Mahsin Habib, Sameer Ahmad, Tariq Aziz, and Anab Ali, RN. ADAMS President and Vice President, Farooq Syed and Syed Moktadir, also sit on the ACHN board. However, ADAMS Board does not govern the clinic board.
ACHN is working with local doctors, hospitals, and medical testing facilities in the community. These specialists provide specialty care at low to no cost to their patients. The ACHN coordinates appointments, orders lab tests, and x-rays for its patients. Appointments are made on a first-come first-serve basis, walk-ins are not accepted.
Family care doctors sit at the clinic every Sunday. They provide routine care, preventative screenings, school and sports physicals, well-woman exams, lab work, health counseling, prescribing and dispensing medicine and vaccinations. A voluntary pediatrician and dentist also offer services.
Planning to commit to only volunteer high quality doctors, Dr. Yahya Alvi (above) says that ACHN is open to hiring other technicians. “We want to stay the free clinic mentality, so will not be hiring doctors.” The board says that they have many volunteers from the Muslim community who have offered their time and services. "Our ultimate plan is full fledged hospital with all specialities. It will be free service with minimal operational costs. It may take 20 years, who knows,” says Alvi.
An administrative fee of $15 per patient visit is charged and all lab work, x-rays, and medications are at an additional cost. Chronic prescription drugs are available through the NOVA Scripts program.
The clinic tries to accommodate reasonable requests such as gender specific appointments. They also will not ask people their immigration status. However, some issues that patients face are that the clinic does not offer urgent care or emergency services. For acute problems, such as colds, there are a limited number of slots offered at the end of the clinic session where a patient can be seen. The clinic is also not public transport accessible.
“We have slots for two doctors per patient per session,” says Dr. Bazigha Hasan, a family care doctor. She works on one of the Army bases in Arlington, VA. “We are hoping to expand to 4-5 doctors.” Sunday hours and increase in the number of patients are short term goals. Eventually the clinic hopes to stay open for a few week days.
She has been volunteering at Jeanie Schmidt Free Clinic for years and ACHN is Dr. Hasan’s pet project. Using her contacts she was able to secure equipment and laboratory and pharmacy contracts at a very low cost. Another physician who was quitting her clinic gave the ACHN her supplies.
“When we started there were two challenges: the startup cost and personnel,” says Dr. Hasan. Sponsors and donors and the initial fundraiser covered the start-up costs.
“We plan on more fundraisers and being more visible in the community. Personnel was the other challenge. We had an overwhelming response- almost 200 volunteers,” stresses Dr. Hasan. She now has a core group of volunteers and will train a bank of volunteers, who will come in when needed.
Mali Math works for the federal government as an analyst. She grew up in Herndon and came to ACHN volunteer orientation in July. At the clinic, she is the manager for exit coordinators and handles the checkout process and health education. “There is a lot of the enthusiasm; we are working on the process. The commitment by the doctors and volunteers is great.” She discusses the ins and outs of patient care coordination. She says she has seen a cross-section of the community, especially older adults come through the clinic for chronic care.
Sarah grew up three miles down the road. Planning to apply to medical school this June, she volunteers as a scribe. “I wanted to do free clinic work, wanted to make sure that [medicine] was a calling for me,” says the recent College of William and Mary graduate. The experience has been ‘really amazing and difficult’ for her. “It is really hard when patients come in; they are sick and poor. You can only help them so much.” As a scribe she is able to chat with the patients and they open up to her about their issues. “I wish we could do more,” she comments. The patients usually come in with uncontrolled diabetes, high cholesterol, and chronic pain due to prior injury. Arthritis and asthma are also common reasons for visits.
ACHN’s office manager, Fatima Zahra Ali, is responsible for the smooth running of the clinic. That Sunday seven patients were seen. “We're up to 90 patients enrolled; enough to book the clinic for a full month,” she expresses.
If someone does not have have insurance and their household makes less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, they can be eligible as a patient at ACHN. ACHN envisions itself as a part of larger network of institutions addressing the health and well-being of underserved and indigent individuals. Dr. Habib also says that the network will include social services such as FAITH, local businesses, community service projects such as food banks, so the people most in need can be reached. A current partner is ML Resources Social Vision division, which currently funds and supports the Salvation Army’s Grate Patrol, a program that feeds homeless men, women and children 365 days a year in Washington, D.C.
This way the clinic is not limited to one location. Doctors who wish to be a part of the network can be located anywhere in the state. “Primarily for Northern Virginia, but [the project] could go beyond the state,” says Dr. Mahsin Habib as he shares ACHN's long term plans with the Muslim Link.
“From fruition, we are a part of ADAMS, but we are an independent 501-3c. The network is portable and easily replicated. We can be anywhere in the country- almost franchisable,” states Dr. Habib. Fundraising is separate and currently the clinic is run by committed donors.
“Our ultimate plan is a full fledged hospital with all specialities. It will be free service with minimal operational costs. It may take 20 years, who knows,” says Alvi.
Planning to commit to only volunteer high quality doctors, Alvi says that ACHN is open to hiring other technicians. “We want to stay the free clinic mentality, so will not be hiring doctors.” The board says that they have many volunteers from the Muslim community who have offered their time and services.
“We need specialists almost in every speciality. As long as they have a license to practice in Virginia, they can see patients here or they can see the patients in their own office,” says Dr. Hasan. Providers can also be people of other faiths.
But they didn’t want the clinic to look like a free clinic, as though patients were being given a handout. “It should look like one of our private, professional offices,” he says- and that it does, clean and welcoming.
Contact the clinic at (703) 542-3366 for more information.