BROOKSVILLE - For some three dozen local Muslim physicians, calling Hernando County home means more than living and practicing here.
It also means making a contribution, said Dr. Husam Zarad, a Brooksville internist.
Now Zarad and his colleagues are set do that by helping uninsured residents who often go without medical care because they lack the means to pay.
The physicians will open the Crescent Community Clinic in Brooksville within the next two weeks to provide free medical care to uninsured, low-income residents.
"Hernando is really our hometown, and this is where the need is," Zarad said Wednesday as he stood in the foyer of the clinic, located at 656 S. Broad St. in the Brook Plaza.
Physicians in the county's Muslim community are donating time and money to the cause.
The clinic is modeled after similar ones in Tampa, Chicago and Los Angeles, Zarad said.
The 1,400-square-foot clinic, which features four examining rooms, will initially be open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and at least one weekday, though the day and hours haven't been set yet, Zarad said.
Jean Rags, the county's director of health and human services, said the clinic will help meet a burgeoning need. The county's uninsured rate is about 17.5 percent and likely growing, Rags said during a press conference at the clinic Wednesday.
There are social service programs to help the uninsured and needy, but Rags said the new clinic will help provide much needed reinforcements.
"We can't do it alone," Rags said. "That's the bottom line."
The clinic will work similar to the Project Access program of the Hernando County Health Department, which serves patients who are uninsured and who have an income within 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
Haydee Santana, who coordinates the Project Access program, said the new clinic will be especially helpful because a number of specialists have already signed up to participate. Project Access, which also relies on volunteer physicians, has had trouble recruiting specialists, Santana said.
"Having a group of people like that working together will be really great," Santana said.
Zarad said he already has some 15 specialists on the volunteer staff.
Dr. Allam Reheem of Spring Hill, a pain management specialist, is one of them.
"It's a way to give back to the community, and it's a service that's badly needed," Reheem said.
Also on hand Wednesday was Ahmed Bedier. Bedier is the former director of the Tampa chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and now is serving as a spokesman for the clinic.
Bedier acknowledged the somewhat rocky history Hernando has had with the Muslim community, including shots fired into a mosque here a few years ago and, more recently, the firestorm created by the comments about Islam made by a former county commissioner's wife.
The Crescent Clinic transcends politics, religion and ethnicity, Bedier said.
"We're not going to ask (patients) if they're conservative, liberal, Muslim or Jew," Bedier said, "we're just going to ask how we can help them."
Lafreda Shannon of Brooksville stepped outside the coin-operated laundry business next door to the new clinic to watch the press conference.
Shannon, 32, of Brooksville, says she has insurance but knows many people who don't and who would benefit from the clinic.
"I think it's a good thing," Shannon said. "I'll be putting out the word."
To find out more about the clinic and its services, call 352-799-5500.