Speaking to a crowd packed into the India Community Center’s auditorium Mar. 17 at its 10th anniversary celebration, Rep. Mike Honda noted that the 2014 implementation of the Affordable Care Act represents a tremendous opportunity for underserved populations to gain access to health care.
“Every member of this community will have access to health care,” said Honda — a Democrat who represents portions of the Silicon Valley – after congratulating ICC co-founders Anil Godhwani and Talat Hasan for their vision in integrating the fractious Indian American community.
In 2005, Honda, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, secured more than $286,000 for ICC to develop a free medical clinic to serve uninsured members of the community. The clinic is staffed by volunteer doctors on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings and offers it services to 10-12 people at every three hour session, said Anmol Mahal, who was instrumental in developing the facility.
“The funding I secured for the India Community Center’s free clinic is a shining example of how culturally and linguistically competent care can improve health outcomes,” Honda told India-West after the celebration. “The clinic has been an immense success since its inception a few years ago and is considering volunteering staff time and space to other ethnic communities for similar care setups,” he said.
Mahal told India-West the clinic needs more volunteer physicians to expand its services. The center’s clients are largely new, elderly immigrants who lack insurance and the working poor, who cannot afford insurance. Immigrants on green cards do not qualify for social services – including public health care – for the first five years of their stay in the U.S.
Mahal predicted that the pool of working poor without insurance would increase as the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented in 2014. Many smaller businesses will simply drop the benefit and pay a fine, leaving employees without health insurance. The clinic will serve that population, along with the large number of undocumented area residents.
“Our original vision has come to fruition but we must grow with more physicians,” said Mahal.
Five and a half years ago, when the Center moved to its new 40,000 square foot building, ICC co-founder Gautam Godhwani – at the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 9, 2007 ¬– noted the lack of social services the organization offered the community and extolled the board, staff and volunteers to find unmet needs and serve them at the new facility.
ICC executive director Tanuja Bahal told India-West that the organization has shifted its focus to more social welfare initiatives, including a behavioral health clinic in partnership with the Hume Center. The clinic offers one-on-one counseling in a manner that is relevant to the Indian American community. The clinic serves young wives who have come to the U.S. with their husbands, but are socially isolated because they cannot work and do not drive, she said.
The behavioral health clinic also serves elderly clients, such as senior immigrants who are living with their children but having a difficult time adjusting.
The Center also has plans to set up a support group for teens and parents of children with special needs. It also hosts a free tax clinic and a career resource center. The organization has partnered with the anti-domestic violence organization Maitri, and provides free child-care to women living in Maitri’s temporary housing facilities.
ICC is well-known for its very active “seniors” program, which provides a range of activities to the elderly on a daily basis. But Bahal said the program goes beyond simply providing services and noted that several seniors from the program are also employed at the facility.
“For many seniors, this is what keeps them going,” she said.
Geeta Mahajan, a long-time member of ICC, told India-West she became entranced with the Center after seeing all its activity, including a dance clinic for seniors, discussion groups and other programs. Mahajan – who has worked with activist Vinoba Bhave in Mumbai – said the ICC must focus on teaching Indian American children to be literate in several Indian languages, to retain some element of their culture. Mahajan herself taught Hindi to second generation children at the Center and encouraged seniors to think about presenting their culture to their grandchildren.
San Jose city councilman Ash Kalra spoke at the anniversary celebrations, noting that there were no such facilities as he was growing up. “I had very, very high expectations for ICC when it first started and it has exceeded all of them.”
“I look forward to coming here decade after decade and seeing more ICCs spring up around our country,” said Kalra.
The celebrations were rounded out with a vibrant entertainment program.