Bani Yas clinic, the health centre that became a social hub

This is no dreary clinic where sick people wait to see a doctor. It has proved so popular for family and friends to catch up and have a bite to eat at the cafeteria that some patients visit twice a day.

The Bani Yas Primary Health Care Centre averaged 450 patients a day when it opened. Now, Bani Yas's most popular hangout averages 800 to 1,000 patients a day.
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BANI YAS // The Bani Yas Primary Health Care Centre is not a clinic in the traditional sense. It lacks the sombre atmosphere associated with a medical centre. Its visitors are relaxed and social, not impatient to see a doctor, and in no rush to leave after their diagnosis or treatment is in hand.

Instead, the three-year-old clinic at Bani Yas has become more of a community centre, a place for the local population to plan a fun family outing.

Sharon Prinsloo, 49, the clinic's nurse manager, who is from South Africa, says: "Patients come in, register for an appointment, then head straight to the cafeteria and start spending time with each other.

The cafeteria was expanded a year and a half ago after staff noticed how much the community of Bani Yas enjoyed socialising over a cup of coffee.

"We thought, why not enlarge it for them since they enjoy it so much? We'll give them what they want, and they'll listen to us when we advise them," Ms Prinsloo said.

And listen they do. Whether from spending copious amounts of time in a centre plastered with posters and brochures on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, or from the friendships that have sprung up between patients and their nurses or health educators, the community of Bani Yas seems to be more aware of their well-being than they were before the clinic arrived, Ms Prinsloo said.

"I think because of where we are located in a pretty remote area, with a large local population, the patients tend to return to us quite often, and in their visits, they ask questions and want to know what is new," she said.

The clinic's staff are meticulous about giving patients access to health information. They refer them to facilities that screen for cancer, encourage them to get a diabetic foot assessment and promote breast-feeding for newborns.

"We don't have to go out to them or preach to them, they come to us and hang out in an environment that is healthy and informative, so they can't help but pick up healthier habits," Ms Prinsloo said.

However, getting patients to call ahead for an appointment remains a challenge. Of the 111,000 patient files on hand, almost 96 per cent of patients just drop in and settle in for the wait.

When the clinic opened, it averaged 450 patients a day. Now, Bani Yas's most popular hangout averages 800 to 1,000 patients a day.

Marissa Sompakdee, 31, from Thailand, is a customer relations officer at the clinic. She said some patients are so regular that they drop by twice a day.

"There are no malls in Bani Yas, the closest one is in Musaffah, so they come and visit here in the clinic instead of going to each other's homes," she said.

It is a clean environment for the family to visit, and no one bothers them or accuses them of overstaying their welcome, Ms Sompakdee said.

Instead, Ms Prinsloo said, the most is made out of the time staff get to spend with patients.

"We talk to them, try to motivate them into leading healthier lifestyles. Some of them start sharing their experiences with other patients and it makes them think about their health on a regular basis," she said.

Ibrahim Khalil, 24, who works in the popular cafeteria, said the majority of his customers are families.

"They just sit here together, have coffee and stay for hours - even if they're not patients," he said.

Indeed, said charge nurse Duaa Hussain, if one member of the family is sick, six or seven people show up.

"It's like an outing for them," said Ms Hussain, 34, from Egypt. "They don't even mind if there is a long wait, because at least they are waiting in a nice, clean, different place, where they can have a drink or snack at the cafeteria and socialise with their neighbours or with the staff."

Mr Khalil enjoys the daily crowds. "The atmosphere is great, just like at the Mafraq Hospital, where I used to work, and the cafeteria is always busy," he said.

The cafeteria once was an afterthought, furnished with two narrow tables meant for hospital staff. Now, it is the busiest place in the clinic, with room for more than 25 visitors who consider it their home away from home.

"All the food in the cafeteria is sold out by noon," Mr Khalil said. "When doctors come looking for something to eat, they have to wait till we get more food in the afternoon, because the patients buy everything."