Since it opened in 2015, the Clarkston Community Health Center has attracted long lines of impoverished patients, at times becoming so busy that it has been forced turn some away.
The volunteer-run nonprofit has provided free care to more than 5,500 immigrants, refugees and U.S.-born people without health insurance. Some have traveled from Alabama, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Now that it has outgrown its 2,200-square-foot building in downtown Clarkston, the center is seeking to relocate and expand. Those plans got a big boost this week when a Texas philanthropist pledged $2.5 million for the effort. With that support, the center is preparing to build a much larger medical center just south of Clarkston at 4038 Rockbridge Road Southwest.
The news comes at a critical time for refugees who are fleeing armed conflicts and humanitarian crises abroad and for others who are sick or struggling financially amid the coronavirus pandemic. Georgia — which has the nation’s third-highest rate of uninsured people — is among 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to all poor adults.
“People were lining up at 6 a.m. outside our clinic, and this was pre-COVID,” said Saeed Raees, the CEO and one of the co-founders of the clinic, which also provides dental care and operates a free pharmacy. “We need to grow because there is such a high need out there.”
Dr. Gulshan Harjee, right, examines Simeon Gahungu, who is from Burundi and who came to the U.S. as a refugee form Tanzania, at the Clarkston Community Health Center on Dec. 17, 2017. Harjee co-founded the clinic to serve refugees, immigrants and other uninsured people. At left is Gahungu's son Matias Manirakiza, 17. BITA HONARVAR/SPECIAL