SOUTH SALT LAKE — About 50 physicians, nurses, donors, patients, elected officials and neighbors braved Thursday's rainy weather, huddling under canopies and umbrellas, for a ceremonial groundbreaking to expand the Maliheh Free Clinic.
Since the clinic opened six years ago, demand for its primary health care for uninsured and low-income residents has outgrown the modest facility. More than 16,000 patient visited the clinic in 2010, a 60 percent increase from its first full year of operation. Of the clinic's patients, at least 47 percent are noncitizens and 44 percent are unemployed.
Board of directors Chairman Scott Browning described the Maliheh Free Clinic, located at 415 E. 3900 South, as a place where magic happens.
"It provides medical care for people in our community who otherwise would not have access," Browning said.
The expansion, which is to be completed by August, will include the addition of three examination rooms — bringing the total to eight — a new waiting area and a family restroom.
David Layton, president and CEO of Layton Construction, said nearly half of the project's cost has been donated by organizations in the construction industry. Construction is scheduled to be completed in July at which point interior renovations will be made to visually incorporate the additions.
"Our intent is that this will look seamless," Layton said.
Layton praised the work being done at the clinic and expressed his appreciation at being a part of the project.
"These are some of the finest, classiest people I have ever met," Layton said. "The very effort that goes on within these walls is a result of people giving back."
The clinic is staffed by volunteer physicians like Dr. Jonathan Horne, who has been with Maliheh since its inception in 2005. He said that while the clinic specializes in routine health maintenance and preventative care, a number of patients have been diagnosed with cancer and other serious illnesses that would have otherwise gone untreated.
"We absolutely know in our hearts that everything we do for the patient is in their best interest," Horne said. "Being a Maliheh physician is happiness. It's the epitome of a win-win enterprise."
Horne said that in his time at the clinic, his patient list has grown from a handful to between 20-30 individuals each week.
"They built it and people came," Horne said.
In addition to more examination rooms, Horne said the level of privacy and quality will be enhanced by the expansion.
"Instead of a drawn curtain, I'll at least have a room with a door and a sink," Horne said.
Utah Lt. Gov. Greg Bell described the Maliheh clinic as "remarkable" and joked about his own involvement.
"Lieutenant governors, all they do is cut ribbons and do groundbreakings," he said, then added, "I get to see the giving, the sacrificing of good people coming together."
Following Bell's remarks, members of the board of director and invited guests — including Dawn Steed, a four-year patient at the clinic — officially broke ground at the site in what Browning jokingly described as a "mud reallocation ceremony."
The Maliheh Free Clinic was named in honor of Maliheh Abdollahi, grandmother of benefactor Khosrow Semnani. Semnani formerly owned and was president of Envirocare and his organization, the Semnani Family Foundation, founded the Maliheh clinic.