For some 30 women in Clarkston, many of them refugees, a traveling clinic’s recent visit provided their first-ever mammography screening.
The nonprofit Clarkston Community Health Center partnered with DeKalb Medical to bring the Wellness on Wheels van to the center, providing state-of-the-art digital mammography screenings for no charge.
The Clarkson health center, 3700 Market Street, started just two years ago, founded by doctors Gulshan Harjee and Saeed Raees, and caters to uninsured and underinsured individuals. Many of their patients are refugees, unemployed and have very low incomes, Harjee said.
“The beauty of our setup is that we reach out to a population no one else is able to,” she said. “Many of our patients are refugees who get six-to-eight months of Medicaid and then are suddenly uninsured.”
On the day of the mammogram screenings, Raees said they were expecting about 15 percent of the readings to come back abnormal. Usually, that figure is around 10 percent, but he said most of their patients have never had a screening, making that figure jump up.
“We saw about 300 women in 2016 that needed mammograms,” he said. “Many of them had not even heard of a mammogram before.”
For the van’s first visit, which typically visits workplaces to provide screenings to company employees, around 30 patients signed up. If and when abnormal readings come back, Harjee said they will do their best to follow through and take care of those patients — but their resources are limited.
Raees said they hope to bring the van back several times a year. He said the first visit was a test and, if successful, could help the center earn additional grant funding to support additional visits and other programming.
The collaboration with DeKalb Medical is just one of many the center is leveraging to help deliver their patients critical services at little to no cost.
They have also partnered with Emory Medical School to start a women’s health initiative and Emory’s ophthalmology department hosts monthly vision clinics, providing free exams and glasses.
Currently, the center operates regularly on Friday and Sunday each week, offering free healthcare services, including preventative and primary care, mental health care, and dental services.
They also have a free pharmacy, through a partnership with Dispensary of Hope, which allows patients to receive a wide-range of medication directly.
The center is 100 percent volunteer run, with almost 50 rotating physicians and some 400 other volunteers who regularly show up to see patients, many of them medical students.
Between them all, Harjee said about 30 different languages are spoken — representing about half of the roughly 60 languages spoken by Clarkston’s diverse population.
Raees said every Sunday, the center sees around 70 patients in a span of four hours. The center has around 1,200 active patients on file currently.
Harjee said by the end of 2017, they would love to expand to offering full-time services. But for that to happen, she said they will need community support.
“There is a limit to what we can do with our size and resources,” Harjee said. “If we have the community's support, we can do more. It can be a true community effort.”
Raees said while the mammogram screenings were covered by a grant, much of their equipment has been donated and friends and family have funded a lot of the rest.