Sajid Syed is the Founder and Chairman of Medina Community Clinic, which provides specialty medical care to people in the Trenton area who are uninsured and under-insured.
Can you tell us the origins of Medina Community Clinic?
My background is as an entrepreneur in the pharmaceutical industry, and I was fortunate to have had a successful business career. A few years ago, I decided I wanted to find a way to give back, and the health care sector and the Trenton community, where I support several charities, including a soup kitchen, are close to my heart. I knew there were people falling through the cracks of health care who needed help. And since I come from a family of physicians, and many of my friends are physicians, I knew there were many highly specialized doctors who wanted to help but who were not sure how. For primary care, people can go to federally subsidized clinics. But specialty care is much harder for people without insurance to obtain.
From the beginning, I want to say that Medina Community Clinic has been a team effort along with co-founders Dr. Abdul Mughal and Dr. Zahid Baig. Arshe Ahmed, Executive Director, has also been part of the project from its pilot phase in January 2015. Dr. Baig joined without hesitation and told me, “We serve any individual in the community who needs access to quality healthcare, regardless of their socioeconomic status, class, race or gender.”
So how did you create a mechanism to support specialists willing to volunteer to treat patients without insurance?
The doctors I knew, including Dr. Baig and Dr. Mughal, wanted to help. I looked at the model of Uber. Someone has excess capacity in their car and can give someone else a ride. Many physicians may have two hours on a Thursday to see an uninsured patient, or they can set aside an afternoon for these patients. But they were not able to travel to Trenton. We approached the Henry J. Austin Health Center and said we had physicians willing to treat patients who needed specialty care. They said, ‘What’s the catch?’ We said, ‘There is no catch!’ Dr. Mughal is typical of our physicians. He is a Trenton oncologist and he said he is someone who wants to put his religious belief into practice.
That was three years ago. How is the clinic working now?
We started with eight specialists, including a cardiologist, plastic surgeon, rheumatologist, allergist and others. We’ve had a very good response. We’ve grown to 27 physicians. These doctors want to give back their time and volunteer. The patients are mainly referred by Henry J. Austin, St. Francis, Capital Health, and Robert Wood Johnson. And so with the system we’ve created under Medina Clinic, the specialist doctors can see these patients in their own office space. And the patients are able to come to the specialist’s office just like anyone else. We strive to preserve the dignity of our patients. We now have a small staff and a patient navigator who facilitate the process of care. There has been so much support from the community.
What challenges have emerged?
A patient seen by one of our specialists often needs a procedure or expensive medication or hospitalization. Some of our surgeons have their own surgical centers and treat the patients there. A GI doctor can perform a colonoscopy at his or her own center, for instance. We had one patient with a large growth on her face that one our plastic surgeons was able to treat in his own surgical center. And we have created partnerships with all the hospitals in Trenton that are enrolling patients in some kind of charity care if the patient also needs hospital care.
Another problem we found was transportation. Fortunately, we received a grant from the Tuchman Foundation to help provide transportation for patients. … And doctors asked us about malpractice insurance. That was often the first question they asked. What we did was buy an additional umbrella policy to support them, and we have never had any problems.
You are active in the local Muslim community and the roots of the clinic were mostly Muslim physicians. Has that changed?
Many of the physicians I knew in the Muslim community wanted to give back to the mainstream community at large and helped start the Medina Community Clinic. It was a faith-based initiative. But now we have support from physicians from other faiths. We have all faiths joining us. We will be especially needed in the year ahead as people covered by the Affordable Care Act may find they no longer have health coverage. Here’s what Dr. Baig told me: “As a medical doctor who is Muslim, I was inspired by my faith to pursue a career in medicine — a profession with a purpose to preserve lives. Other doctors, from all different backgrounds, have now joined in the pursuit of neighborly compassion and concern for providing quality care to the uninsured.”