As the country continues its spittle-flecked flusterations over recently signed health care legislation, a San Luis Obispo doctor is quietly going about creating an equally revolutionary run at local medical treatment: a free clinic.
Indeed, it would be a clinic offering health care that will cost nothing for those who aren’t medically insured or are underinsured.
Dr. Ahmad Nooristani — a thin, physically fit man with a shock of dark hair and beard that contrast with his hazel eyes — has been working on bringing a free clinic to San Luis for the past 10 months. With some 300 volunteers ranging from doctors and nurses to nutritionists and therapists willing to give their time to fulfill his dream, Nooristani’s next need was a physical location for the clinic.
Between full-time shifts at Sierra Vista, he beat the hustings looking for a space. That search bore fruit last month when he found a 1,000-square foot facility in the Bruington Professional Building at the end of Phillips Lane in San Luis Obispo (near the CHP station on California Boulevard). The space, which he hopes to enlarge to a total of 1,450 square feet, will have four patient exam rooms, a chart area and waiting room. He hopes to sign a lease in May and have the clinic operating by the fall.
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, 34 years ago, Nooristani speaks with an Afghani accent. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1991 and has subsequently earned college and medical degrees here.
He found San Luis Obispo while interviewing on the West Coast and was captivated by “the different atmosphere here, the friendliness; it’s beautiful, you couldn’t ask for more.”
Hired as an internist at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, Nooristani’s experience in the hospital’s emergency room has shown him there’s a need for such a clinic.
After the county shut down General Hospital in 2003, it contracted with Community Health Centers of the Central Coast to handle the bulk of uninsured and indigent cases. While that’s been the case to a greater degree, there are two mitigating circumstances: The health centers charge a sliding scale on ability to pay; and the underinsured, noninsured and indigent are still using hospital emergency rooms for primary care needs.
Nooristani believes a free clinic will not only ease that stress, but patients will have a clinic to go to for ongoing medical needs that aren’t emergencies in nature. Although he won’t be prescribing narcotics, he’ll direct patients to low-cost prescriptions at local pharmacies as well as direct individuals to social service caseworkers if needed.
Although there will be no cost to patients, and volunteers have lined up to handle the clinic’s procedures, from medical to bookkeeping, a free clinic still costs money to keep its doors open.
Toward that end, Nooristani established the Noor Foundation in December as a nonprofit 501 (c)3 organization. As such, he’s seeking $50,000 over the next three months in order to cover annual rent, insurance and the costs of sending out lab work for patients. Donations of any amount are tax deductible. Check drnooristani@gmail or slonoorfoundation@gmail for more on how to donate.
For what it’s worth, here are a few observations:
• Is Dr. Ahmed Nooristani for real? Is he sincere in wanting to look after the ongoing health needs of our unfortunates who have no other options for health care in our county? From chats with Nooristani, his colleagues and the number of health professionals who are ready to volunteer their time to a free clinic, the answer is yes.
• In light of health clinics serving the underinsured and indigent in our county, is a free clinic needed here? Judging from the numbers of the above mentioned who frequent emergency rooms and have no ongoing medical care, the answer is, unfortunately, yes.
• Should Nooristani and the Noor Foundation be supported in bringing this level of care to the Central Coast? That’s one you’ll have to answer from your heart.
Bill Morem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 781-7852.