Sunday, November 19, 2017
Politics

DeWitt: To see Muslim contribution to Hernando, step inside Crescent clinic

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The Crescent Community Clinic in Spring Hill is a lifeline for people like Arthur Adams.

He lost his construction job during the housing bust, he said, and barely makes enough as a part-time handyman to get by — and not nearly enough to pay for the doctors' visits and six medications he needs to control his back pain and heart disease.

Without Crescent, said Adams, 52, of Spring Hill, "I guess I'd be scraping money together just to get to a doctor."

Though the clinic's staff includes some American-born volunteers, it relies mostly on doctors from Lebanon, Pakistan, the Philippines, India and Syria.

Most of them are practicing Muslims, including founder and president, internist Husam Abu Zarad.

"Our faith compels us to do charity, to give back to society in money and services, and since we are all doctors here, we decided to put our faith into action," he said.

The "Crescent" in the name is a nod to their religion, and to even think about changing it, said administrator Barbara Sweinberg, "would be a disservice to the hard work and the loyalty and the contributions of the Muslim doctors ... It's a daily, unbelievable commitment."

I visited the clinic last week as a reminder of some basic facts. Despite what President-elect Donald Trump might have implied during his campaign, most of the immigrants in this country are hard-working people who contribute socially and economically.

Only a tiny minority of the group he has singled out for the highest level of suspicion, Muslims, are terrorists or sympathetic to terrorists.

And in this county, particularly, a disproportionate number of Muslims are doctors, the people we depend upon to keep us well, to save our lives.

We can still hope that Trump's talk was just talk and hate won't be sanctioned by the highest levels of government. (Though a little of this hope seems to evaporate with each of his appointments.)

Meanwhile, consider this a plea not to be taken up with prejudice. Please do what we're supposed to do in this country, which is judge people solely by their actions.

And these are the actions of the doctors at Crescent.

They distributed more than $1 million in medication just from Jan. 1 through Oct. 30.

During the last fiscal year, these doctors handled nearly 10,000 appointments, a number that is growing rapidly partly because of Florida's refusal to accept billions of dollars in money from the expanded Medicaid program, Sweinberg said.

They provide dental and psychiatric care and treat a range of chronic diseases from high blood pressure to diabetes. They enroll patients in weight-loss programs and smoking cessation sessions that are mandatory to receive treatment.

They do it without charging a dime, though they do take donations from patients, one of whom gave what she had in her pocket, which was, in fact, precisely a dime, Sweinberg said.

Along with fundraisers, those donations fund the clinic's operation. A $100,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield's Florida Blue Foundation allowed it to move from Brooksville, where it had opened in 2008, to the larger Spring Hill office in 2011. And a smaller grant paid for an expansion the following year.

But the clinic takes no government money, Sweinberg said, and "everybody here — everybody — volunteers."

"I know the value of the doctors' contributions and it's in the millions and millions of dollars," she said.

And though Sweinberg and the doctors refused to weigh in on Trump's positions, she didn't mind restating what was clear from the moment I walked through the door.

"Don't keep these people out," she said. "They do nothing but good."

Contact Dan DeWitt at ddewitt@tampabay.com; follow @ddewitttimes.

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