Dr. Gulshan Harjee, right, checks Kettlie Frederic Syline's blood pressure as Emory University medical student Troy Kleber assists at the Clarkston Community Health Center. Sunday Aug. 28. Jeremy Redmon/jredmon@ajc.com/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Jeremy Redmon/jredmon@ajc.com/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: Jeremy Redmon/jredmon@ajc.com/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Clarkston clinic remains crowded amid travel ban, seeks help

So many patients showed up last Sunday at the Clarkston Community Health Center that the free clinic had to start turning people away. The nonprofit center could take only 55 people that day.

That’s not an uncommon occurrence at the volunteer-run clinic, which serves many impoverished immigrants and refugees as well as U.S.-born patients who lack health insurance. Since the clinic opened in 2015, patients have been coming from as far away as Birmingham, Ala., and Columbia, S.C. 

And it is staying busy, despite President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which has temporarily barred visitors from six Muslim-majority countries and halted America’s refugee resettlement program. 

RELATED: New Trump travel ban has broad implications for Atlanta region

The clinic’s co-founders cited many reasons for the high demand. First, Clarkston - nicknamed the Ellis Island of the South - is a major destination for many immigrants and refugees. Second, they point to Georgia’s decision not to expand Medicaid, a health insurance program for the poor, under the Affordable Care Act. And third, the word is getting out about their clinic, which offers free medical and dental care as well as interpreters for patients who don’t speak English fluently. 

“We are busting at the seams. We are so busy,” Saeed Raees, the clinic’s president and one of its co-founders, said as he surveyed his crowded waiting rooms Sunday. 

Many of the volunteer doctors and nurses come from nearby schools, including Emory University. The Emory Refugee-Medical Alliance, a student-run group, recently hosted an event on campus to spread awareness about refugees’ health needs and to encourage volunteering at the clinic and elsewhere. By working at the clinic, the medical students get a chance to learn from veteran doctors who volunteer there. 

Stone Mountain resident Kettlie Frederic Syline, 60, a lawful permanent resident from Haiti, was among those who showed up at the clinic Sunday for help. She suffers from high blood pressure. One of the clinic’s other founders, Dr. Gulshan Harjee, ordered a blood test and an electrocardiogram for Syline and then gave her a prescription for some medication. 

“The need for healthcare is so great,” Harjee said. “And the price is right here.” 

Syline was grateful for the clinic’s help. 

“Thank God they take patients here,” she said in Creole, speaking through an interpreter. “God bless the nurses and everybody.” 

The clinic is seeking volunteers and donations so it can expand its services. Find out how you could help here: www.clarkstonhealth.org

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