Caring for People in Need
Founded 21 years ago, the Westminster Free Clinic in Thousand Oaks is considered “a medical home” that provides health care to those who wouldn’t have help otherwise.
“That’s our purpose: to give people a medical home that don’t have one,” says Lisa Safaeinili, the clinic’s executive director. “Sometimes this is the only time they access health care. So that’s why we exist.”
Those who utilize the clinic are considered “the working poor” and include people who work as house cleaners, gardeners, caregivers to the elderly and more.
“They can’t afford to have health insurance,” Lisa said. “They have to be low income, so they have to make $30,000 or less a year.”
For the past 10 years, the clinic has been located at United Methodist Church of Thousand Oaks. Every Wednesday night, the clinic provides more than 100 people with free fruits and vegetables contributed by FOOD Share.
On the second Wednesday of every other month, the clinic offers a larger event for more than 300 people. This includes free vaccinations, dental fluoride varnish for children, screenings for cataracts and glaucoma, and medications provided by a pharmacist. It also includes a yard sale where individuals can receive free clothing, as well as doctor visits, mental health counseling, health education classes, grief support, diabetes education, physical therapy and legal services.
“We’re completely free and it’s all under grants and individuals who write checks,” Lisa says. “That’s how we survive—and we’ve survived that way for 21 years.”
Today, the Westminster Free Clinic is known as a private, nonprofit health care provider that serves approximately 7,000 people a year—60% of which are women and children. The effort is driven by volunteer health care professionals and more than 80 local high school students, as well as students from California State University Channel Islands who are exploring careers in the health care industry.
Luis Tun, a 16-year-old student at Newbury Park High School, started volunteering at the clinic in April. On a recent Wednesday night, Luis helped with patient intake, “and I’m also part of the clinic’s program that helps out the community with diabetes and high blood pressure,” he says.
“I want to go into the medical field when I’m older and I thought this would be a great way to actually be in touch with patients,” Luis says. “I have parents that are from low income families so I know how it is to not have insurance. So coming here and actually meeting some of the people makes me feel more aware and just helpful to be giving back to my community.”
The Westminster Free Clinic was initially inspired by Dr. Steve Kamajian, a physician who was feeding the homeless at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westlake Village.
“He realized they needed health care and he could be more useful doing that and started offering medical services on the night the homeless were fed at his church about 21 years ago,” Lisa explains.
Dr. Kamajian is still the board president and volunteers when he can at the clinic. Co-founder Cindy Vinson also serves on the clinic’s board of directors.
“Dr. Kamajian always says that the clinic gives people peace of mind,” Cindy says. “People who have no place else to go for medical care… they come here and they have peace of mind and that’s one of the most important things about medicine.”
Prior to its current location at United Methodist Church of Thousand Oaks, the clinic was offered at other sites, including Many Mansions’ Shadow Hills housing complex. From there, the clinic was housed in other larger spaces within Many Mansions, as well as New Life Korean Church in Thousand Oaks.
“From there we moved to our current location, which is perfect for serving low income residents who live near the church as well as being closer to Moorpark and Simi Valley residents we serve,” says Lisa, adding that United Methodist Church donates the space for the clinic to operate.
Virginia Rivera credits the Westminster Free Clinic for helping her overcome Type II diabetes.
“They helped me with everything—they gave me medicine and they sent me to their nutritionist and she told me what to eat; they also provide activities like yoga and Zumba,” recalls Virginia, 50.
Virginia lost 20 pounds, thanks to the guidance she received at the clinic.
“Thank God I’m okay,” she says. “I’m really happy now because I feel really good—I was extra large size before and now I’m okay.”
Learn more at WestminsterClinic.org.