Thirty-five-year-old Hispanic immigrant Vilma came for pregnancy care - and later for help with a treatment plan after a breast cancer diagnosis.
Mary Carmen needed prenatal care and food assistance.
Adele came seeking resources to provide for her teenage grandchildren.
They are among the thousands of tri-county residents, from infants to seniors, who have found healing and hope at the Shifa Clinic, a free medical facility and outreach hunger prevention program in the Lowcountry that serves the uninsured and those that are 250% below the poverty line.
“I was ashamed and nervous walking in (to the clinic), but they welcomed me with open arms,” stated Mary Carmen. “They provided me with medical care, food, and diapers when I only had $20 in my bank account. When I walked in, I felt so much love from each volunteer.”
And that is exactly why Dr. Reshma Khan founded the clinic more than 10 years ago.
The idea took root in 2012, when Khan, an OB-GYN physician, was working at the VA Hospital in Charleston. She felt a special connection with her patients and it inspired her to seek out additional ways to give back to the community. She wanted to provide high quality, compassionate medical care and services to those in need, treat
them with respect and dignity, and also give each patient and recipient hope for their futures. But when she set out to volunteer her services, she found most places wanted only primary care physicians. Deeply devout in her faith, Khan prayed about what to do and soon felt led to start a free clinic of her own.
“I was just so passionate about doing it,” she said. “And God Almighty heard my prayers! It started on a very low scale – just me and one computer and one room…and no money, nothing. Over a period of a decade, the Charleston community has opened its arms and heart to support the project and to bring it to where it is now.”
Today, it is a robust, thriving operation in a brand new facility on the Cainhoy peninsula, yet another answer to prayer, noted Khan, who serves as the clinic’s medical director. Their former clinic was located in a small, leased space in Mount Pleasant, but last May, while addressing an audience at the facility’s annual banquet, Khan decided to put forth a bold idea.
“I said in my speech my next prayer is for God to provide us with a new facility,” she recalled.
By June, they had found a space near Daniel Island, just off Clements Ferry Road on Marina Drive. Just two months later, they bought it with support from ICNA Relief, a nonprofit devoted to building healthy communities, strengthening families and creating opportunities for those in despair while maintaining their dignity. In December of 2022, after renovating the space to suit their needs, the Shifa Clinic staff and volunteers moved in and started seeing patients earlier this year.
“You can’t imagine that you would get something so fast!” said Khan. “And to get board approval by three different boards, it’s incredible.”
After bursting at the seams in their old facility, which Khan called “too crowded, impersonal, and inefficient,” the new clinic is a breath of fresh air with more than twice the amount of space. The bright décor also includes inspirational messages on the walls, such as “Be the reason someone smiles today.”
“The main reason for the move was not so much of an expansion,” explained Khan, “but to accommodate what we already have…(Now) everybody has a peaceful place to work.”
Physicians from different specialties – primary care, pediatrics, cardiology, OB-GYN and more – volunteer their time to see patients on designated days. The clinic has state-of-the-art equipment, as well as a fully functioning pharmacy. Services also include immunizations, chronic disease management, vision care, and dermatology.
In 2022 alone, they had close to 4,000 medical visits, and Khan predicts that number will grow 10 to 15% each year. Each patient must fill out an application first, to be sure they are eligible for services.
In addition to medical care, a key component of the Shifa Clinic’s offerings is its outreach hunger program, which includes a fully stocked on-site food pantry, monthly grocery deliveries, community giveaways, and child hunger prevention services. They help about 800 families a month, said Khan. She was especially touched by an impactful story she heard while visiting Cainhoy Elementary School to drop off supplies. When she asked the school nurse what items they needed most for the students, she was told that one student had mentioned he had not been able to brush his teeth for almost a week. When asked why, the child responded that he didn’t have a toothbrush.
“Can you imagine?” said Khan when recounting the conversation. “I could not believe it. After that we started making hygiene bags for them…because the need is so great.”
According to Khan, a number of charitable organizations pitch in alongside the Shifa Clinic to help make sure community needs are being met, such as Easter Cooper Community Outreach, the Lowcountry Food Bank, and Rotary Club of Daniel Island.
“We all need each other’s help,” she said. “…This is God’s work and we are all doing our best. We work together, and that is the only way to be helpful to the community. We share burdens. Some days they can help, some days we can help.”
The numbers alone indicate that the Shifa Clinic is filling a gap. In addition to the thousands of patient visits each year, they dispensed some $459,000 in medications and administered 1,348 vaccines last year – all at no charge. The hunger prevention program served more than 28,000 individuals and 8,600 families in 2022. Overall, the Shifa Clinic’s annual report estimates that they provided some $4.2 million in services.
For Khan, it is the steady fulfillment of her life’s work. And she has no plans to stop anytime soon. Her efforts have most certainly not gone unnoticed. Even President Joe Biden has recognized her contributions to the community she serves. At the Shifa Clinic banquet last May, Khan was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by
AmeriCorps and the Office of the President of the United States for her lifelong commitment to building a strong nation through volunteer service. The framed honor hangs on the wall in her office today.
The word “Shifa” means healing. And while the term is appropriate for the care that is provided day in and day out at the Shifa Clinic, patients aren’t the only ones benefiting from the clinic’s outreach. There is no doubt this special place is offering a restorative remedy of its own for the physician who set out to make a meaningful difference in her community some 12 years ago.
“Honestly, when I look back I am just very grateful,” said Khan. “Very grateful and very humbled by the divine power – the love and mercy that God has showered on us, on me specifically to be a part of this blessing. He’s opened so many doors for me. It just makes me very emotional…I treat it as a gift that God has given. It’s very, very dear to me.”
And to thousands more as well.
To learn more about the Shifa Clinic, visit icnarelief.org/shifaclinics/.
WANT TO DONATE?
Hygiene items, such as toiletries, socks and other personal necessities, are always needed. To make a donation, visit the clinic at 668 Marina Drive, Suite A-5. To make a monetary donation, visit the Shifa Clinic website at icnarelief.org/shifaclinics/ and click on the “Donate Now” button. Or call (843) 352-4580 for additional information.
WANT TO VOLUNTEER?
The Shifa Clinic is able to continuously offer free services to those in need because of the many volunteers who donate their time and talents to the program. Both medical and non-medical volunteers are needed. To find out how you can help, visit icnarelief.org/shifaclinics/volunteer/ or send an email to email@example.com
SHIFA FREE CLINIC 2022 STATISTICS
Medical visits to clinic
Hours donated by medical volunteers
Value of medications dispensed
Hours provided to healthcare students in training
Individuals served through hunger prevention program
Pounds of food provided
Total value of services