Place of Muslim worship a long-time place of care
By Les Gura
People in Winston-Salem’s tough neighborhoods know that in an emergency, they can be seen at “Baptist” for free regardless of whether they have legal status and no matter their religion.
But it is a long and difficult bus ride to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, so people often ignore chronic conditions until a crisis, when they end up at the emergency room.
For nearly 30 years, Community Mosque of Winston-Salem has quietly offered help via a free clinic in the southeast part of the city.
An obvious need
The mosque happens to be located in the center of one of the city’s hot spots, as mapped by FaithHealthNC for areas that receive the greatest concentration of charity care.
That need made it an easy decision for Muhammad Hayat Syed, MD, a hospitalist with Wake Forest Baptist Health, when he was asked to volunteer by providing services to the clinic. Today, Hayat is medical director of the Triad Free Health Clinic, which is held two Saturdays a month from 9 am to 1 pm inside the mosque.
Imam Khalid Griggs helped persuade a family practitioner he had become friends with, Mohammed A. Athar, MD, to start the clinic back in the early 1980s.
“The need may even be greater today than years ago,’’ Griggs says. “There’s a tremendous need for alternative avenues for, if nothing else, just health screening. We’ve had cases where folks actually have been sent straight to the emergency room because their vitals or blood sugars were over 400 or 500, or somebody’s blood pressure was some ridiculous number.’’
“I think this is an excellent way to reach the community, especially people who have reservations about coming into the hospital,’’ Hayat says. “Maybe they don’t have health insurance, or maybe they do not have awareness of the resources provided by the government. Some people are eligible for Medicare but just don’t know how to seek help.’’
Tremendous health disparities
The clinic focuses on medically managing hypertension, diabetes and hyperlipidemia. The volunteer team consists of nurses, phlebotomists and physicians trained at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, and offers free labs to the clinic population while working to obtain assistance with medications.
Just as it was back when the clinic began years ago, there continue to be tremendous health disparities on the southeast side of town, Griggs says. Although the clinic is not meant to handle acute or primary care, it targets “those who have no health care outlets.’’
“They don’t have Medicaid, they don’t have Medicare; they may not even have legal status in the country,’’ he says. “We don’t erect any kind of barriers.’’
An average of 20 to 25 people from the community — mostly African-American and Hispanic, and not necessarily Muslim or members of the Community Mosque — come to each clinic, Griggs says.
Other ways to help
Beyond the clinic, the Community Mosque helps in other ways. Many of the same people coming to the clinic take advantage of a food bank operated by the mosque. And like the health clinic, Griggs says, no questions are asked of those seeking help.
“We just ask that they tell us how many people they’re trying to feed,’’ he says. “It’s an inviting setting for a lot of folks when they come here. It’s something unique; there is a level of comfort that I don’t think can be simulated in a more institutional setting.’’
This year, the mosque also began a community garden, which it hopes to expand in the future to offer organic vegetables and fruits to people in the neighborhood.
“We really want to start giving people more healthy eating alternatives on a scale we’re capable of offering,’’ Griggs says.
Athar, the clinic’s original physician, still has a family practice in Mount Airy.
He recalls that when he started the clinic, he saw people from places such as India, Pakistan and elsewhere overseas who didn’t have insurance.
“I used to help them with medications, used to consult about what they should do about their hypertension and diabetes and things like that,’’ Athar says. “I’m very happy about what I did and I’m glad that other people are doing it now.”
To learn more about the Triad Free Health Clinic, visit their website.
Photos, from top: Technician Stephen L. Daniels does a cholesterol test on Jahan Choudhury at a recent health clinic. The Community Mosque of Winston-Salem on Waughtown Street is home to the free clinic. The clinic’s nursing practitioner Asiyah Rodriguez takes patient Annie Gaston’s blood pressure, while medical director, Muhammad Hayat Syed, MD, examines patient Mame Ndack Djitte.