India House Fulfills its Dream to Serve the Medical Needs of Houstonians

Sareen Clinic ribbon cutting, Photo: Bijay Dixit

Sareen Clinic ribbon cutting, Photo: Bijay Dixit

By Jawahar Malhotra

HOUSTON: Almost to the day five years ago on February 9, 2009 when Gov. Rick Perry  presided over the grand opening of India House, the center of a myriad of the community’s activities has entered into an public-private partnership agreement with Harris Health Systems (formerly the Harris County Hospital District) to offer more services to the community at large.

Bal and Rita Sareen (middle) with their family (from left) son Rakesh, wife Amy and their son Neel and daughter Laila; and daughter Sangeeta with her husband Dinesh.     Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

Bal and Rita Sareen (middle) with their family (from left) son Rakesh, wife Amy and their son Neel and daughter Laila; and daughter Sangeeta with her husband Dinesh. Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

The agreement was publically formalized with its own grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, January 24 attended by local politicians and prominently by the chief architects behind the new Sareen Clinic, Harris County Commissioner’s Court Judge Ed Emmett, India House Trustees Dr. Virendra K. Mathur and Dr. Durga Das Agrawal who stood besides the benefactors of the Clinic, Bal and Rita Sareen. Agrawal spoke of his immense pleasure at making India House a reality and gave a brief rundown on the history of India House and its two million dollar donors O.P. Jhindal (for whom the center is named) and Chowdary Yalamanchili. A short video followed showing the steps taken in starting the medical services clinic. Dr. Erica Brown, the administrator of Harris Health Systems and Ambulotary Care Services, was the emcee for the night.

Houston philanthropist Carolyn Farb (left) with Harris County District Attorney candidate Kim Ogg, Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

Houston philanthropist Carolyn Farb (left) with Harris County District Attorney candidate Kim Ogg, Photo: Jawahar Malhotra

It has been a fervent hope and desire of the India House Board to expand the programs that the contemporarily designed facility can offer to entice the Indo-American community to use it more regularly and often and then move into the phase two part of its master plan. On most days, there are several classes going on in many of its rooms and most weekends find one community event or the other happening in its main multi-purpose room. Besides this, several organizations have their offices in the building and free or low-cost legal counseling services are available, in addition to Bollywood dance classes, yoga classes and cricket games on the large field behind the building.

Spearheading the drive to provide low cost medical services to the community has been the renowned and well-respected cardiologist, Dr. Mathur who has spent much of his spare time to attend to the patients that come in on the weekends. He has also arranged medical seminars to impart knowledge on health issues, such as on metabolic syndrome in February 2013 and the University of Houston’s mobile eye clinic which had its first run in the India House parking lot in July 2012. Mathur understands that free and competent healthcare is hard to find in the city and has tapped into the reservoir of Indian physicians who are willing to volunteer their time on the weekends to serve the minor needs of those who walk in for treatment.

That medical service has been formalized in the past few weeks after an agreement was struck with Harris Health Systems after Mathur originally approached them with an idea two years ago for a County Same Day Clinic offering treatment of aches, pains and illnesses; minor injuries and labs, tests and vaccines. “With the help of Judge Emmett, who is an unwavering friend of the Indian community, the concept gained favor with Harris Health”, explained Mathur at the reception held last Friday. “And then our generous benefactor, Bal Sareen stepped forward with a $250,000 donation that held to outfit the space dedicated to the clinic”. HHS agreed to provide the equipment that would be used and some staff while volunteer doctors would provide consultations and treatment.

This is a bold step forward in making India House a much more used facility and was lauded by Emmett as he addressed the over 300 people who attended the reception, including US Congress Representatives Al Green and Sheila Jackson Lee (with her husband Elwin); Jay Guerrera from Sen. John Cronyn’s office; Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish; Houston philanthropist Carolyn Farb and Harris County District Attorney hopeful candidate Kim Ogg. Many from the staff of HHS were at hand for the reception and ribbon cutting that was followed by tour of the clinic’s facilities and a buffet dinner catered by Bombay Brasserie. “This new clinic is the combination of two great organizations coming together due to its benefactors”, remarked Emmett. “This is humanity at its best. In years to come, this clinic will bear more dividends than all we have done today can imagine”.

Consul General Harish echoed these sentiments, applauding the outsized impact of the Indian community, still small – about 10% – compared to the overall population. “Micro care clinics are the best way to give back and harkens back to our Indian traditions”, he said. “These will be replicated elsewhere in the community too”.

The usually boisterous Al Green was full of praise for the venture. “India House is my house. It is your house. It is our house”, he said acknowledged the politicians in the room and became the catalyst to gather them together in several groups for pictures with the India House Trustees and the Sareens. “Quoting Dr. Martin Luther King”, he said, “we must learn to live together as brothers and sisters or we will perish together as fools”, adding “we cannot allow healthcare to become wealthcare in the richest country in the world”.

Agrawal then gave a brief background on Bal and Rita Sareen who live in Lake Charles, Louisiana but have maintained contact with many friends and acquaintances in Houston for the past 25 years.  Originally from New Delhi, Bal Sareen came to the US as a mechanical engineer in 1974. After working for many years, he bought Brask Inc. in 1999 and turned the fortunes of the petrochemical industry heat exchanger manufacturing company around, opening a Pearland branch in 2011.

A short, mustachioed man with an easy smile and typical Punjabi gusto, Sareen spoke about his association with the Houston community mostly through his friendship with the late Dr. Paul Mehta who introduced him to many people and inducted him into the board of the India House and the Punjabi Culture Club. “We would call it the pakora chai club”, quipped Sareen as he spoke at the podium. “I couldn’t turn Paul down, he was like my older brother, but he made me look deeper into the mission of India House of giving back to the community. I did none of the work, the Board worked tirelessly and I get to get all the credit”.

As the program ended, Kusum Sharma, Director of the Natraj School of Dance performed a solo dance to invoke Ganesh, followed by a dance to a Bollywood hit by several of her younger students, both of which were well received by the mixed audience. As Carolyn Farb, a lover of Indian arts, fashion and culture posed in her radiant headdress and deep blue embroidered kurta next to one of the students, she couldn’t help by be impressed by the dancers and the objectives of the clinic. “This is what giving back to the community is all about”, she beamed.