When it comes to getting health care to its uninsured residents, the state of California has been doing better than most.
A recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the number of uninsured individuals in California dropped more than 10 points between 2013 and 2017, the largest decline of any state in the U.S.
While the numbers are cause to celebrate, there are still more than 3 million people in the state who are unable to get insurance for one reason or another. In San Luis Obispo and Northern Santa Barbara counties, one nonprofit organization has spent the last seven years reaching out to provide free quality health care services to the area's uninsured population, and it shows no signs of flagging in its commitment to that missions as it enters 2019.
The SLO Noor Foundation is a volunteer-based nonprofit that provides free non-emergency medical, dental, and vision care to uninsured adults regardless of race, ethnicity, immigration status, religion, or socioeconomic status.
"We are helping the people who can't get health insurance anywhere else," Foundation Executive Director Abe Lincoln said. "They are the population that falls through the cracks."
- Photo Courtesy Of The SLO Noor Foundation
- HELPING THOSE IN NEED The nonprofit SLO Noor Foundation offers free dental, medical, and vision care to uninsured individuals in SLO and Northern Santa Barbara counties. The foundation relies on local doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical professionals who volunteer their time and services.
Local physician Dr. Ahmad Nooristani founded the nonprofit in 2009. At that time, Nooristani had grown concerned about the number of uninsured individuals in the county and wanted to provide a free clinic to meet their needs. By 2011, the foundation had opened its first medical clinic, with more than 300 individuals—including physicians, nurses, students, and others—stepping forward to volunteer and help Nooristani realize his vision.
"We know we have a problem with adequate medical care," Nooristani said in an interview that same year with New Times, "and I have provided a solution that works through community support. I have not yet talked to anyone who has said 'no.' Everyone is stepping forward."
Fast forward to today, and the foundation has seen more than 20,000 patient visits since it first opened. It continues to expand its services, operating a primary care and vision clinic in SLO, a dental clinic (also in SLO), and a North County clinic in Paso Robles. In 2018 alone, the foundation reported 6,000 patient visits and received more than $650,000 in donations. Lincoln said that the number of patients the foundation served in 2018 increased 40 percent from 2017.
" ... 2018 was our biggest year ever," he said.
The foundation offers a dizzying number of services to the uninsured. On the medical side, they include general medical care, diabetes and hypertension treatment, mammograms, disease prevention and screening, and even nutritional support and specialty referrals. The foundation's dental services include exams, X-rays, and fillings, as well as crowns, root canals, and wisdom tooth extraction. Noor's dental program can also provide partial or removable dentures, according to the foundation's website. Lastly the foundation offers between three to eight eye clinics each month, and can provide high-quality frames and lenses.
"Everywhere I go, there's somebody who's been to a Noor clinic or somebody who knows somebody who has been to a Noor clinic," Lincoln said. "This not only helps patients, but the entire community."
In late December 2018, Noor announced a partnership with Cal Poly's Center for Health Research to provide free newborn and women's health services in Guadalupe and Santa Maria. The program will utilize a customized mobile RV with an exam room and counseling area to provide the services at two different sites in Santa Maria on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as eight different sites in Santa Maria on Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays. Patients will be able to get the provided services in English, Spanish, and Mixtec languages, according to previous New Times reports. Lincoln added that the foundation would also continue to expand services throughout SLO County in 2019.
It takes an army of dedicated volunteers to ensure that the foundation can continue its mission to provide such a wide range of services to the area's uninsured. In 2018, a total of 80 volunteers donated their time to the organization. Most of those are medical professionals including doctors, nurses, and dentists. Lincoln said the foundation is particularly in need of volunteers who operate outside of SLO city in the farther reaches of the foundation's service area.
"What we want to do is reach out to more doctors and medical professionals in North and South [SLO] County," he said. "And more dentists. We can always use more dentists."
Those who do decide to volunteer their time will find no shortage of opportunities to pitch in and assist a needy population in the foundation's service area.
"We are not running out of people who need us," Lincoln said.
To find out more about the SLO Noor Foundation, visit slonoorfoundation.org, or call (805) 439-1797. Δ
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.