By: Elise Kalfayan
Dr. Steve Kamajian and Dr. Arbi Ghazarian share a family medical practice in Glendale, plus a strong commitment to helping those who cannot afford health care. In addition to their full-time schedules and work with Glendale Adventist Medical Center, each of them has founded and directs a weekly free clinic.
Dr. Kamajian started providing free health exams in 1994 to homeless people who came to a church for meals. He moved from location to location as demand grew. The Westminster Free Clinic, now at the Thousand Oaks United Methodist Church, serves 160-180 patients each Wednesday evening.
Board Certified in Family Medicine, Kamajian has received many awards, was Glendale Adventist Medical Center Chief of Staff from January 2006 to December 2007, and has chaired its Department of Family Medicine.
“WFC is a family practice clinic,” says Kamajian. “We see lots of upper and lower respiratory infections, hypertension, diabetes, thyroid issues, coronary artery disease, obesity, and other common medical conditions. The trends are sicker patients at earlier ages.”
The clinic provides early access to care and innovative programs to fill health care gaps. It is also a source of training and social awareness for student volunteers.
Kamajian has seen demand for services increase over the past two years, with 25% more patients and even more they have to turn away. “The biggest challenge is there are more uninsured individuals, and we always need more physician and other clinical volunteers. My biggest satisfaction is teaching both the patients and the high school volunteers.”
Rooms are full as soon as doors open for the Glendale Community Free Clinic directed by Dr. Ghazarian. He initially volunteered with Kamajian in Thousand Oaks, but found the commute too long. With a strong feeling that there were similar needs in Glendale, Ghazarian established a free clinic in their Montrose office. Demand quickly overwhelmed the space.
“The efforts of five committed individuals, including church member Sylvia Lofftus, led the United Methodist Church in Glendale to graciously offer us permanent free space,” says Ghazarian. “They went further – installing air conditioning, cabinets, and other fixtures in their large facility so we could help more patients.” Ghazarian stewards resources carefully. With an all volunteer staff, donated or at-cost medications and services, and free space, the cost of a single patient visit averages $20.
Now in its fifth year, the clinic helps 80-90 patients each week; 60-70 require doctor visits, while the others need tests or medications. Funding is completely private and led by Glendale Adventist Medical Center, Glendale Memorial Hospital (through Catholic Healthcare West), and Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center.
Glendale Adventist and the clinic have a supportive relationship: the clinic is a site for hospital residents’ Family Practice training rotations; the president is GAMC CFO Kelly Turner; and patients get x-rays free from the hospital. GAMC CEO Morre Dean says the hospital is a proud partner in these efforts: “Dr. Kamajian and Dr. Ghazarian have impacted our community by serving the uninsured through clinics entirely staffed by volunteers and funded through donations. Not only has this been a tremendous help to those being served, but it has also helped promote volunteerism and awareness of a significant issue facing our society.”
Ghazarian is gratified by results he sees with conditions such as diabetes and blood pressure. Among his challenges: “We cannot provide specialty care, stress tests, or surgery, because of cost and liability problems, and it is very difficult to find physician specialists willing to volunteer.”
Kamajian and Ghazarian are sterling examples of medical professionals with a heart for those they serve. Ghazarian says he finds great satisfaction in this work: “I know I’m doing good deeds and helping others. I can go home at night and know that I’ve done my share, I’ve done some good, and it is the right thing to do. I hope people know that our free clinic volunteers are working out of the kindness of their heart.