History Of Sareen Clinic, Harris Health System At O. P. Jindal Center, India House

India house

By Dr. Virendra S. Mathur
HOUSTON: Indian-Americans, mostly professionals started identifying in the early 70s, Houston, the energy capital of the world, as America’s city of the future and it was already the home of the largest Medical Center of the country with about 40 institutions in the huge campus. Two giants in the field of Medicine, Dr. DeBakey and Dr. Cooley were already attracting thousands of patients from all over the world to Houston. Many Indian families moved to our city and as the numbers increased, came community organizations and India Culture Center was born. The first priority was to establish a community center to allow interaction between the mainstream community and people speaking different Indian languages and belonging to different regions and religions.

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The dream about a Community Center was born in the 70’s but it took 30 years to take shape and 40 years to become a reality, the India House, completed in 2008. An important mission was to serve the entire community to give back to those, who gave us, immigrants from India, so much in this great land of opportunity. In this community service center, many services like children’s education in the form of after school tutoring, summer school program, Senior citizen’s center, computer center, place for socialization, recreation, entertainment, fitness center with Yoga, meditation, dance, cultural programs, legal assistance were started. One of the most important was a Medical Clinic run by all volunteer physicians. This clinic provided service to the neighborhood communities, two-third of whom were minorities and almost half were at or near poverty level. Patients were not asked social security number, insurance information or charged physician fees and even tests were done at deeply discounted rates, below Medicaid rates. We got some experience of a ‘Charity Mini-Clinic’, but we wanted to expand it to be able to provide full services to many more members of our neighborhood communities.
We talked to several philanthropists, organizations, foundations, other NGO’s, hospitals, government agencies and elected officials to learn about the process of expanding our clinic. We were very fortunate to receive a grant of half a million dollars from the City of Houston and another half a million from Houston Endowment to get us started. Soon thereafter we received a pledge of one million dollars from Jindal family and we were on our way. We got very good advice from many and pursued several possibilities. During this period we learnt about the possibility that Harris County, besides City of Houston, can also help us and in 2012, Dr. Durga Agrawal, our Founder president approached Judge Ed Emmett to seek his guidance. He directed us to Harris Health system (formerly Harris County Health District) and we met Senior officials of the County Health System as well as members of Board. Dr. Agrawal and myself met George Masi, Senior Executive Vice-President and C.O.O. of Harris Health, as well as Dr. Atul Varadhachary, chair of Strategic Planning Committee and both were very helpful and encouraged us to pursue our efforts. Eventually after several meetings, we learnt about a new Federal program, 1115 Medicaid waiver that finances states’ innovative efforts to expand health care to those who need it but do not have enough resources. Masi was very kind and wondered if it would be possible to help India House Clinic and utilize this new resource to support it. He and his staff worked hard and figured that there was a real possibility to have a unique public private partnership and Harris Health System can join hands with India House and establish a full fledged Clinic. The process was very complex as the application had to go through multiple agencies and Government bodies and only with their approval it could happen and the hard work, enthusiasm and determination of Masi and his team made it possible. They also guided us very ably throughout the process. Harris Health officers specially Brian Pitre, Director, Facilities Management and Dr. Ericka Brown were very helpful at every step and our own Board and Executive Committee members, specially Jugal Malani, Kul Bhushan Uppal, Brij Agrawal and Paul Madan made it possible by supporting it enthusiastically.
We have been very fortunate to have several generous friends of India House in our Indian-American community and Sareen Family (Rita and Bal), Yalamanchili Family (Chowdary and Angela) and Soni Family (Rajinder and Sandeep) came forward and with their donations, we modified India House facility to create an area which can house the greatly expanded clinic, from 800 to 7500 sq. feet area. This clinic will operate the whole week, including half day Saturday. It will be serviced by full time physicians, nurses, medical assistants and and administrative staff. On 2 days, it will open at 7.00 AM and on 2 other days it will close at 7.00 PM, thus helping those individuals who can come only early morning or late evening. One unique service in this clinic at India House will be Physical Therapy (P.T.) and Occupational Therapy (O.T.) which is available today at only one of many clinics run by Harris Health System. All the residents of Harris County, irrespective of being insured or not, will be eligible to use this clinic.
We are also planning to continue our ‘Volunteer Mini-Clinic’ which has been operating at India House for the last 4 years. The clinic got started with the support of 5 former Presidents of Indian Doctors Association, specially Dr. Mahesh Shetty, who convinced 12 Ob-Gyn specialists from Women’s Hospital of Texas to volunteer in our clinic to run our Well Women Clinic and it has been very popular and currently is run under the leadership of Dr. Devanshi Somaiya. Our General Medicine clinic has been operational in parallel under the guidance of Dr. Manish Rungta and more than 12 physicians have been spending their Saturday mornings to volunteer for our clinic and many of them like Drs. Sunil Sahai, Nitin Kapur, Sewa Legha, Luz Amar Dhindsa, Manoj Bhardwaj besides Manish Rungta and me have done a lot more than others. Now, with the General Medicine work being done through new Sareen Clinic, we are planning to modify our India House Clinic to provide consultation in different Medical Specialities, as we have several physicians practicing in these areas, who are willing to be volunteers and we cover all specialities. Our additional plans for future expansion are to add an eye clinic with the help of the famous College of Optometry, University of Houston and generous donation from Dr. Dennis Golden.
The ribbon cutting of Sareen Clinic is on Friday, January 24 and all of us are very eagerly and enthusiastically waiting for that day.