Clarkston clinic wins grant

How much good can $10,000 do? Dr. Gulshan Harjee, co-founder of the Clarkston Community Health Center, says it can save 40 women’s lives.

The nonprofit center recently received $10,000 as part of the AARP 2023 Purpose Prize that Harjee has earmarked to screen 40 women for breast cancer.

“That’s an enormous gift for us that will impact the lives of our patients,” said Harjee, herself a cancer survivor.

When the center was founded in 2015, Harjee gave up a traditional medical practice to work with patients who often have no other options for medical services.

“I noticed when refugees come to this country, they get six months of Medicaid, but unless they’re employed after that, they don’t get health insurance,” she said. “But I had a great number of patients who had lost Medicaid, and I couldn’t afford to provide free care. So when my partner suggested we open a free clinic, I jumped at the idea.”

Since then, Harjee’s patients have often come from the ranks of the unemployed, uninsured and undocumented – a group that reminds her of growing up in Tanzania in east Africa.

“That was also an underserved area,” she said. “But I had the opportunity to come to this country as an asylum seeker and to get a great education. This is how I can say thank you to society. I’m all about paying it forward. Working here is also a way to nurture my soul and take care of people in need.”

Since its inception, the center has expanded to include dental, mental health and pharmacy services. The operation is managed by four part-time employees and a rotating roster of volunteer medical professionals.

“We find volunteers by word of mouth and through stories that have been published about the humanitarian awards we’ve won,” said Harjee. “And I’ve been in the city 40 years, so I know a few doctors.”

In June, the center launched a women’s health initiative in collaboration with Emory Medical School. Harjee has also partnered with DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur to provide low-cost services, including routine mammogram screenings, ultrasounds and biopsies.

The next major step in the center’s story will happen in about a month when construction begins on a new 10,000-square-foot facility about 2 miles from the present location. Harjee said a capital campaign to support the project will also enable her to hire full-time employees to meet the area’s growing medical needs.

Information about the Clarkston Community Health Center is online at clarkstonhealth.org.


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