Community Clinic Gives Health Care to All

University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic family medicine physician Linh Vuong, right, checks vital signs of high school student Ericka Millan,15, at the UMMA Community Clinic in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES – If Sandra Sutherland had to pay $336 for her hypertension medicine then she and her 11-year-old daughter would have to struggle.

Sutherland became ineligible for Medi-Cal eight months ago because she started working and earned more than Medi-Cal’s income requirements. Without Medi-Cal, Sutherland couldn’t afford her pills. But the Gardena resident is able to get her medication because UMMA Community Clinic gives it to her at no cost.

''They give quality care and they are pretty quick,'' Sutherland said of the South Los Angeles clinic that is her main provider.

Sutherland spoke of her satisfaction with her doctor and staff but said she didn’t know the story behind the clinic’s name. UMMA is the University Muslim Medical Association. ''Medical students from UCLA and Charles Drew University formed the organization in 1992 when they were spurred by the riots to help disadvantaged residents in South Los Angeles,'' said Avais Chughtai, UMMA spokesman.

For 14 years,  UMMA Community Clinic has provided treatment to people of all backgrounds. Since its inception the clinic has served 24,000 patients and is expanding its operations. The clinic is the first charitable clinic established by Muslims.

''That’s great that students made a difference,'' Sutherland said. ''They did this out of pure care for people.''

''UMMA founders gathered supplies and funding until they opened a free clinic  in 1996. In 2004 the facility became a sliding-scale clinic but won’t turn anyone away for ability to pay,'' Chughtai said.

The clinic has full-time doctors and staff who work with volunteers. UCLA medical students also train at the clinic.UMMA received Federally
Qualified Health Center status in 2006 which means it follows stringent government guidelines. The organization’s annual $2.6 million operating budget is funded by the federal government, grants and donations.

''Some people may think the clinic is only for Muslims because of the name. But only 2 percent of the clinic’s patients are Muslim,'' Chughtai said.

South Los Angeles is an area where the annual average household income is less than $25,000 and 51 percent of the adult target population has no medical coverage, according to UMMA figures. Between 34 to 46 percent ofchildren in the area live without health insurance. Latinos make up 71 percent of the local population and African Americans 20 percent, according to the organization’s 2009 figures.

''The typical patient is a Spanish-speaking Latino, around 40 to 50 years old and in a profession like gardening. He or she must be responsible for his or her own coverage,'' said Dr. Lucila Tarin, UMMA’s chief medical officer and medical director. ''Or the patient could be an unemployed housekeeper. It’s common to have undocumented immigrants seek help at UMMA.''

Many patients suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes. ''Clinic staff helps patients manage their afflictions before they get serious and
require visits to the emergency room, which is more expensive and can make longer waits for all patients,'' Tarin said.

''Some patients come to UMMA because they lost their jobs,'' Chughtai said.

''Others patients come from further away such as North Hollywood or Orange County because community clinics in their areas can’t take new patients,'' Tarin said.

UMMA offers primary care, pediatric care and other services. Volunteer physicians specialize in fields such dermatology or gynecology. Clinic staff tries to enroll eligible patients in health insurance plans such as Healthy Families.

K.''Rocky'' Bhaila credits UMMA staff for discovering his high blood pressure that he probably would have never known about because he can’t afford health care.

''It’s still under control because they checked me early'' Bhaila said of his condition.

Sutherland is glad UMMA is examining its faculties and services. Last year the clinic had 12,000 patient visits and hopes to accommodate 5,000 more with more rooms and doctors.

A federal stimulus package of $566,400 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Los Angeles County will cover costs of building six patient rooms and an additional 1,078 square feet. New rooms will include a multi-purpose room for patient education. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

But the organization needs to raise money so it can hire more doctors and staff. Donations will also pay for prenatal services and enhancing other services.

UMMA will also establish a clinic at Fremont High School that will be open to the public and is slated to open in late 2011.

Like all clinics, UMMA must prepare for changes from health care reform. More people will qualify for Medi-Cal under the reforms so they will have more options for primary care. ''Clinics must maintain good customer service to keep their patients,'' Tarin said.

''The reforms will also provide incentives for clinics to be “medical homes” a one-stop shop for patients to meet all their medical needs,'' she added.

Students, health professionals and community members can volunteer at UMMA. Health professionals, especially those in a specialty field, can treat patients. Graduate medical students can get hands-on experience while those not in the medical field can help with other events. For information call (323) 967-0375 or log onto www.ummaclinic.org.