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Care Without The Cost

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A new volunteer-run health clinic in Sanford is helping our community’s uninsured population get the care they need for free

When Sanford resident Anwar Syed moved his family to the United States from India, his daughter fell ill soon after and was in need of medical attention. Anwar, who was uninsured at the time, was shocked at the challenges he faced in accessing healthcare.

“It was a stressful experience not having health insurance, but it got me thinking about what happens to someone who is uninsured and how difficult it can be,” Anwar recalls. “From then, I had this dream to open a nonprofit, multicultural community clinic to assure patients that they would be welcomed and not so stressed during a time of need.”

Years later, thanks in part to the generous support of family, friends, and the community, Anwar’s vision for a free clinic came to fruition in October 2019.

Despite working full-time in information technology for a local company, Anwar moonlights as the executive director of United Medical and Social Services (UMSS), a new, free health clinic in Sanford for those without medical insurance. In order to be eligible for treatment, patients must earn less than double the poverty level and possess no other insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. At UMSS, visits and medical treatments are free and patients have access to free or low-cost medications, follow-up exams, referrals, lab work, and other medical services. The medical staff are all volunteers from local hospitals and private practices. The clinic is open three days a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In the future, there are plans to open on additional weekdays, as needed.

Anwar says the clinic’s strategic location within a three-mile radius of several ER facilities serves to ease the burden on area hospitals and relieve the financial stress on low-income people in need of medical help.

“The UMSS clinic is a very important piece of the puzzle in the entire healthcare system, especially here in Sanford where 20 percent of the population is uninsured,” Anwar explains. “A lot of low-income people have nowhere to go. They get desperate and end up in the ER for non-emergency illnesses. What ends up happening is the wait times increase for those who really need emergency attention, and people who are insured have to wait, too. Having our clinic nearby is a win-win for everyone.”

In addition to offering a wide range of patient services, the clinic also provides mental-health treatment. Two volunteer psychiatrists and two mental-health counselors are available on alternate Saturdays. Much like a private practice, the clinic is a clean, comfortable, and welcoming space and operates in a similar fashion to any physician’s office, taking appointments, following up with patients, and calling in prescriptions. The only difference is that it’s all done by volunteers, like Dr. Faisal Tawwab, who owns and operates his own medical practice in Lake Mary. Dr. Tawwab’s wife Anam and sister Juveria are also volunteer physicians at UMSS.

“As doctors, helping those most in need is our calling and part of our culture,” says Dr. Tawwab. “To be able to help put a smile on someone’s face is the best satisfaction anyone can ask for. We’re happy to help.”

Most recently, the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County (DOH-Seminole) has partnered with UMSS to help bridge any limitations and gaps in services in the community by bringing its Community Integrated Mobile Health Services to the clinic every Friday from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. Services provided include flu and Hepatitis A vaccines; screenings such as A1c, cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, STD, and HIV; educational materials and supplies; and referrals to other DOH-Seminole services, True Health, and other organizations within the community, as needed. DOH-Seminole also helps train UMSS volunteers on patient-intake and other requirements.

“Having this free clinic in Sanford is another wonderful resource for the community,” says Donna Walsh, health officer for DOH-Seminole. “Any opportunity to have more providers address disparities in underserved populations will help break down barriers such as access to care and transportation, among others. We encourage the community to learn more about this new resource and share it with others who might also have a need for clinical services.”

“At the end of the day, what we’re doing at the UMSS clinic requires lots of partnerships with local organizations like DOH-Seminole and local hospitals, as well as people who want to give back to the community,” says Anwar. “I’m especially grateful to all our volunteers and to our volunteer medical staff who are donating their time and skills to help the needy. We are always looking for medical and non-medical volunteers to serve all those deserving healthcare.” 

If you are interested in volunteering your time at the UMSS clinic in a medical or non-medical capacity, visit UMSSClinic.org.

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