Sabariah Mohamed Hussin, Haotin Huo, Bilal Rehman
& Community Services
Shifa Healthcare & Community Services is a nonprofit organization that provides a range of medical, legal, and social services to the Houston community through its network of volunteers from the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH).
Islam, immigration, charity, volunteer, masjid, community, social services
About the Shifa Healthcare & Community Services
In 1998, members of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) began to conceptualize the formation of accessible community health services. Four years later, the first Shifa Clinic opened its doors in 2022 as a non-profit healthcare organization. The Shifa Clinic network now consists of five medical clinics and one women’s shelter offering legal support for domestic violence victims. These centers aim to provide inclusive primary healthcare services and treat acute conditions and infections. Shifa Clinic combines its services with social support programs for uninsured and underserved families to improve their quality of life.
The additional medical clinics are located at: (1) Synott Clinic at 10415 Synott Rd, Sugar Land, TX (2) Al Mustafa Clinic at 17250 Coventry Park Dr, Houston, TX (3) Friendswood Clinic at 13630 Beamer Rd. Suite 123 Houston, TX, and (4) Al Mumineen Clinic at 12002 Fondren Meadow Dr. Houston, TX.
The Shifa Clinic is a volunteer-driven initiative with physicians and staff dedicated to making healthcare accessible to those in need. At first, volunteer physicians began seeing patients in a small room at the ISGH mosque at Sugar Land. They eventually purchased a mobile unit to set up temporary clinics on Saturdays that offered essential medical services such as check-ups, flu shots, and blood and bone marrow drives. Since 2007, Shifa Clinic has served more than 50,000 individuals and families.
One of Shifa’s main strengths as a community provider is its emphasis on providing interdisciplinary services at little to no cost. Before the pandemic, these interdisciplinary services included primary care, dental, and psychiatric care and a dedicated women’s clinic. In general, one of the critical advantages of community clinics is providing a setting where underprivileged people can receive primary health care services from within their communities. (Resnik and Tighe 1997, 92) Muslims make up around 1.68% of the Texas population, and Houston has the most Muslims of any city in Texas (Azhar and Ayman 2017).
As the volunteer-run clinic gained steam, leaders of the local community took notice. Hakeem Olajuwon, a prominent Muslim and the star center of the Houston Rockets in the 1990s, donated $25,000 to support the clinic. The weekend clinic expanded as the Muslim community grew and opened new masjids. By 2000, the community was able to raise $750,000, which the city of Houston matched as a grant. Founders of the Shifa Clinic used the funding to build its first permanent brick-and-mortar site behind the ISGH masjid in Sugarland, returning to its starting point.
Although the clinic is connected to the masjid and is positions next to an Islamic school, it serves Muslim and non-Muslim patients. The clinic is staffed by Muslim community members, some of whom are paid, and some of whom are volunteers. The clinical staff is made up of a few regular and rotating physicians and nurses, while community members and student volunteers staff the administration and front desk. Many of the staff are immigrants who worked as physicians before immigrating to the United States. The integrated community center offers many resources and services, from check-ups to dental and optometry. Though patients are asked to pay an administrative fee of $30, staff may also draw upon the masjid’s zakat fund to cover the cost for those who cannot pay.
Services During Covid-19
In 2020, Shifa Clinics and its community volunteers worked together to distribute food, hand sanitizers, and PPE materials. Over time, Shifa Clinics offer online doctors consultation and access to medical prescriptions. The food drive gathered people from diverse professions, young and old, who all contributed towards helping the needy and underprivileged. Shifa Clinics also made referrals to Houston Methodist and other medical centers.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the clinic maintained some of its interdisciplinary services. While the primary care and the women’s clinic remained operational, dental care operations ceased, and psychiatric care options became more limited. Some collaborating psychiatrists were able to provide care via telehealth. Given the upsurge in psychiatric crises in the midst of the pandemic, some community clinics were established solely to attempt to treat these psychiatric problems, such as the Psychiatry Emergency Services (PES) (Stepho et al. 2020, 186). Shifa was able to adapt some, but not all, of its resources to an online or virtual format.
The central pillar towards the success of Shifa Clinic lies in its three-pronged partnership between the community, clinic workers, and volunteers. Although Shifa is a religious community clinic, its inclusive medical mission shares many similarities with other thriving community clinics. Strong networks, local idea-sharing and collaborations, interdisciplinary workers, and efficient planning and organization have all been vital aspects utilized by the Shifa Clinic to remain operational and provide for their respective communities during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Shifa Clinics largely avoided burnout among its staff and resource collapse because it served a smaller community, had strong community support, and broader supply network and referral system. Another important community care aspect Shifa excels is involving the community in its care. (Resnik and Tighe 1997, 95) The Shifa Clinics worked with community members to organize food, sanitizer, and PPE distribution. For instance, transportation was a key part of the cooperation, and even Uber drivers offered their services for free. This movement involved a diverse group of voluntary care providers. Many of them were young and especially educated and qualified.
For instance, Mahmood Marfani, director of the Shifa Clinics, worked as a communicator, organizer, and planner who made himself constantly available. For situations beyond the scope or expertise of the clinics, such as COVID-19 testing or treatment, Shifa Clinics volunteers contacted larger hospitals such as Houston Methodist. They could efficiently transfer care to those locations. The robust local network that characterized the Shifa Clinic furthermore stands in contrast with accredited social health activists (ASHAs) responsible for containing viral transmission and providing care for underserved communities in India (Wichterich 2021, 163).
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