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Ardas Family Medicine: Refugees and COVID-19

Racial minorities in Colorado have been feeling the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nobody knows this better than TEDxMileHigh speaker P.J. Parmar, founder of Ardas Family Medicine, a private clinic that specializes in refugee and asylee health care. Learn more about Ardas Family Medicine and how it has fared during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ardas Family Medicine

When P.J. Parmar was in medical school, he knew he wanted to start a private medical business to accommodate low-income communities. His dream was fueled by a desire to change the current state of healthcare in America. Today, many low-income people live in medical deserts, where nearby hospitals and government clinics do not accept Medicaid. 

Parmar, in his TEDxMileHigh talk, discusses that only 20 percent of family doctors in Denver take any Medicaid patients. Of those 20 percent, some have limits, such as accepting only five Medicaid patients a month.

“This form of classist discrimination is legal, and is not just a problem in Denver—almost half the family doctors in the United States refuse to see Medicaid patients.” – P.J. Parmar

Why do many family doctors not accept Medicaid? Parmar explains, “Medicaid pays less than private insurance, and Medicaid patients are seen as more challenging. Some show up late for appointments, some don’t speak English, and some have trouble following instructions.”

Parmar’s idea, to create a private medical practice only seeing resettled refugees, turned into Ardas Family Medicine. Since its start in 2012, Parmar’s practice has completed over 60,000 refugee medical visits from people hailing from Nepal, Burma, Somali, Iraq, the DRC, Rwanda, Eritrea, and former Soviet/East Europe. Ninety percent of his patients have Medicaid, but many do not have to pay anything. At the skepticism of many doctors, Parmar insists he has made money through the practice. You can make a profit by serving underrepresented populations. You can make a profit by doing a public good.

How Does Ardas Family Medicine Work? 

“Here’s how: we break down the walls of our medical maze by taking the challenges of Medicaid patients, turning them into opportunities, and pocketing the difference. The nuts and bolts may seem basic, but they add up.” – P.J. Parmar

For example, Ardas Family Medicine is a walk-in only clinic. This can help accommodate refugees who do not have phone minutes, cannot speak English, or otherwise cannot schedule an appointment. It accommodates people who do not have cars, care for an entire family, and cannot show up for appointments on time. With this model, patients can show up whenever it is most convenient for them and can usually see a doctor within 15 minutes.  

The practice also provides over the counter medicine and some prescriptions directly to patients at the clinic. This prevents the refugee from having to embark on an often overwhelming and confusing visit to the pharmacy.

“I can adapt quicker than a nonprofit because I don’t need a meeting to move a stapler. But really, none of my strategies are new or unique, I just bring them together in a unique way, to help underserved patients while making money.”- P.J. Palmer

Once Parmar has made a profit, he puts the money back into the refugee community as a business expense. Ardas Family Medicine sits inside of the Mango House, a building Parmar owns that has various resources for refugees. These include programs to clothe and feed the poor, churches, mental health, dentists, and legal help.

Ardas Family Medicine and COVID-19

According to an April Colorado Sun article, since COVID-19 arrived in Colorado, Parmar’s staff of 10 has tested over 300 refugees for the virus. Forty-five percent of these tests came back positive. This rate is more than double Colorado’s percentage of positive cases. While health officials have reported that racial minorities are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19, it is not currently tracking refugee and immigrant populations. 

As to why refugee populations are more heavily impacted by COVID-19, Parmar has various explanations. Due to Denver’s high cost of living, refugees often live in close quarters with family and/or friends. In addition, many refugees rely on public transportation or are essential workers. 

Like other clinics across the state, Ardas Family Medicine has needed to make do with a lack of personal protective equipment. 

The Mango House

While Ardas Family Medicine has been immensely busy, the Mango House has needed to mainly shut its doors in order to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines. This means the Mango House, which pre-COVID-19 provided clothing stores, an international grocery store, a tailor shop, a tax service, a Nepali jewelry store, and six restaurants, is now grappling with its future. The various small businesses that live within the Mango House are seriously struggling to pay rent. 

How You Can Help

Some Mango House restaurants are able to stay open for take-out. If you would like to support these small refugee businesses, take your pick in international food. Jasmine Syrian and Nepalese Mountain Kitchen are open five days a week, and Urban Burma is open three days a week. 

While Ardas Family Medicine and the Mango House are not nonprofits and do not take monetary donations, they do take donations of items they are currently in need of. Check out the current list.  In addition, the Mango House contains one nonprofit tenant, the African Community Center (ACC) who does take donations. 

These are trying times for everyone around the world, but the woes of a pandemic do not impact all populations fairly. As we learn to adapt to life during a pandemic, we at TEDxMileHigh hope we can all stay informed, connected, and tuned into the unique needs of community members.

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