BROOKSVILLE — Most of the crowd at Saturday's grand opening of the Crescent Community Clinic appeared to be family members of some 40 primarily Islamic physicians who are donating their professional services to the needy and uninsured in Hernando County.
Patients have been trickling in since early June, when the clinic began opening its doors every Saturday.
But on this Saturday, Martina Smith of Nobleton arrived with daughter, Leah, 11, and son, Steven, 8, to learn about the care available.
Smith said she has a good job as a network engineer in Kissimmee. Her husband has a job as a concrete worker in the slow construction trades. Neither of the jobs provide health insurance.
"We're not in medical need now," said Smith, "but you never know when an infection will come. It's $100 to walk into a walk-in clinic."
She and her children were pleased with what they saw: welcoming professionals, fresh and spotless examination rooms and medical instruments, easy access with plenty of parking in the strip mall at Broad Street and Ponce de Leon Boulevard.
The tight-knit community of Muslim doctors has long considered opening such a facility to give back to the community that has fostered them. Said the clinic's executive director, Alex Galvan, himself a convert to Islam: "Charity is one of the five pillars of Islam. It's an unwritten rule, we should help others."
A patient's only qualifications for free medical care are a lack of health insurance and living at the poverty level. "We rely so far on their word," said Galvan, but the clinic intends to begin financial screening. "We're not here to be police officers. If they need our help, we're here for them. We're diligently doing our best to meet their need."
The clinic is outfitted and staffed by volunteer physicians as a primary care doctor's office. Specialists also are on hand. Dr. Husan Abuzarad, affiliated with Oak Hill Hospital, is the clinic's medical chief of staff.
The physicians themselves paid for the clinic's remodeling and equipment and will finance its maintenance.
Of his role, pre-med student Galvan, 25, a Brooksville native, said with an engaging smile, "Mostly, I'll be saying (throughout the community), 'Give me money.' "
Not all the caregivers are Muslim, he pointed out. "We have several doctors from the Florida Cancer Institute," he said.
Not all the requests have been answered positively. "A lot of doctors are afraid of malpractice (suits)," Galvan said.
But some generous surprises have been added to the mix. "We've had imaging companies and blood work labs lower their prices for us. Spring Hill MRI, especially, has been a total blessing," he said.
In the clinic's six weeks of seeing patients — 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each Saturday with appointments and walk-ins — Galvan said, "You name it; we've seen it." He mentioned sutures sewed, growths removed, biopsies performed and cancers diagnosed.
The clinic hopes to expand its days of operation in the near future. "The demand is already there," Galvan said.
Jean Rags, Hernando County director of health and human services, winding up a tour of the facility Saturday, said: "This is great. It will be one of the stopgap measures over the weekend. Hopefully, it will relieve emergency rooms. By being here to have clients get immediate care, we get in on the front end."
Also there Saturday to check out the clinic were Allan and Virginia Male, owners of the Oaks Motel, a short distance east on Broad Street.
"We have people who could use it, poor people," Virginia Male said.
Will they refer guests in need of care?
"Oh, yes," she declared.
The clinic's presence has been purposefully low key, highlighting the doctors' work in the community.
"We're going to let our actions speak louder than words," Galvan said.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]