Health care has been a topic of national debate for years. One thing that everyone can agree on is that not everyone has access to health insurance. But free health care for some may be coming to the Garden Grove area.
A fairly new organization, Shifa, is a student-run free clinic made up of medical students and undergraduates from the University of California, Irvine.
What started out as an idea between Dr. Tipu Khan and Dr. Cesar Barba, has turned into an organization that has been committed to providing health care to the underprivileged communities in Orange County for the last three years.
“The main point is to provide care for people that are uninsured,” said Dr. Barba, a 31-year-old family medicine doctor in South Los Angeles and the executive medical director of Shifa. “We really need to focus on these populations because they tend to be the sicker populations.”
So far, Shifa has held three free health fairs in Orange County, focusing on the underprivileged Muslim and Vietnamese communities in Garden Grove and Latino community in Santa Ana. With the grant for $15,000 they received in 2011, the organization hopes to open a permanent free clinic in Garden Grove in the near future.
“Eventually we want to open up a sight where we could have a free clinic,” said Dr. Barba, “Right now we’re kind of focused on the Garden Grove area and trying to find a clinic around there.”
Until they establish a clinic, the organization will continue to host health fairs that diagnose patients and refer them to places where they could seek further assistance. The fairs include vision tests, testing patient’s blood mass index for obesity, testing glucose, high cholesterol and time to meet with the doctors and medical students.
“A lot of families don’t have Medi-Cal and it’s very hard for them to get check-ups and stuff,” said Mario Rivera, a 19-year-old Santa Ana resident, who stopped by the health fair in his city last Saturday. “They talk to you and make you feel comfortable, so that’s helpful.”
One of the main distinctions about this organization is that it is primarily student run. Although they work under the supervision of the doctors, the medical students and undergraduates involved are really the ones running the program. Recently, these students organized a benefit concert to raise money for the organization in order to have the funding to host the health fairs and eventually establish a permanent clinic.
“We really want students to learn from the situations and become more enlightened about what health care access really is in underserved areas,” said Dr. Barba.
“We get to follow the doctor and the doctor teaches us,” said Jessica Stambaugh, a 3rd year biology undergraduate at UCI and the vice president of the student board. “The medical students are always there and the doctors are there coaching us, but it’s one step closer to being there ourselves.”
Stambaugh has been with the organization for the past three years and shares in the excitement to finally open up a clinic in Garden Grove. In the meantime, the organization will continue fundraising and accepting donations at www.shifaoc.org.
“Even if we don’t get many people at a health fair, I still feel like their lives are changed as far as realizing things about their health that they’ve never known,” said Stambaugh. “We’re really invested in this project and excited to finally cut the ribbon.”