Bringing health and wellness to the community
Chuck Gordon

In a bright, colorful classroom two doors down from the gym, Jamie Parks-Foster described to an elementary-school parent the effects of using Naloxone. It was a mild night in late January, and the parent was one of hundreds of Monroe residents who packed the halls of East Elementary School for a mini-health-fair.

“When somebody has an overdose, all this is going to shut down,” said Parks-Foster, a second-year student in the Wingate University School of Pharmacy, pointing with both hands toward her body. “It’s like you’re basically dying. So Naloxone revs your system back up.”

But she added a warning: “When you give somebody Naloxone, you want to stand back, because they’re going to be like a zombie coming back to life.”

Wingate student giving vision test

The night, officially billed as a Mental Health and Wellness Event, was chock full of such vivid and useful information. It was the first in a series of mini-health-fairs to be coordinated by the University’s Collaborative for the Common Good, and it was a smashing success.

The CCG’s fairs complement the big yearly Health and Wellness Fair the University puts on. Last year’s event, held in November at Monroe Middle School, attracted more than 700 people looking to get flu shots, oral-health screenings, balance tests, blood-pressure checks and a wide range of other services offered by a host of Wingate health-sciences students.

The mini-health-fairs are more focused. Two days after the mental-health event at East Elementary, the University hosted a heart-health fair at Wingate Elementary, where members of Wingate’s occupational-therapy and exercise-science programs got kids moving, demonstrated how blood circulates through the body and let the students touch and examine real pig hearts (“That was gross!” said one girl after disposing of her examination gloves).

The mini-health-fairs grow out of events already taking place, says Dr. Catherine Wright, the CCG’s executive director. The CCG, she says, simply piggybacks on the curriculum already in place at a school, such as the heart-focused “academic showcase” already planned at Wingate Elementary.

Nursing students help kids make stress balls

“It’s almost like a synergy that happens,” Wright says. “It is kind of like a health fair, but it’s going to take on different forms depending on what’s happening organically in the community.”

A third mini-health-fair is being planned for April that will focus on oral health and nutrition. At all events, Wingate brings its Wellness Van, which was donated to the University by Atrium Health and was upfitted via funding from Foundation for a Healthy Carolina and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. BCBSNC is supporting all van outings this spring and sponsored the big Health and Wellness Fair last fall.

In the Wingate University Wellness Van, Wingate students can perform any number of high-volume medical tasks, such as giving flu shots, checking blood pressure, doing backpack checks and providing medication counseling.

Serving and being served

In one classroom at East Elementary in January, Wingate physician-assistant students checked visitors’ blood pressure and vision. Down the hall, another group of PA students gave out information about depression, while a little farther on, near the cafeteria, nursing students helped kids make heart-shaped stress balls. The Wingate stomp team even performed in the gym, while Heart for Monroe’s Closet was open for business, enabling visitors to pick from tables full of free clothing.

There were also representatives from the Union County Council on Aging, Union County Public Schools’ school-safety team and many other organizations that help keep the community healthy of mind, body and spirit.

Jesse Granger, a 2018 Wingate graduate, is the options counselor and SHIIP (Seniors’ Health Insurance Information Program) coordinator for the Council on Aging. She attended the events at both East and Wingate elementaries, handing out pamphlets describing the various services her organization offers.

Elementary schools, it turns out, are a good place to distribute information aimed at the elderly. “I think it’s really good for bridging the gap,” she says. “You tend to think you’re not going to find seniors at elementary schools, but especially with the drug epidemic going around, a lot of times there are grandparents raising their grandkids.”

Pharmacy student talking to health-fair visitor

The opioid epidemic was a hot topic at the East Elementary event. Wingate third-year pharmacy student Lora Holloman even convinced NarcX, the maker of a drug-nullification product, to provide free samples. People can drop unwanted medications into NarcX’s liquid solution, rendering the drugs immediately irretrievable. Over time, the drugs will also dissolve, which helps keep medications out of the water supply.

Holloman had encountered NarcX at a conference and immediately began thinking outside the box.

“We wanted to do a drug-takeback (at East Elementary), but that involves a lot of paperwork and drug officers,” she said. “When I went to the conference and saw this, I thought, well this might be a good alternative. The manufacturer had never actually thought about it being available to the public.”

She persuaded NarcX to provide 50 bottles of its solution and even to print out directions in Spanish. “They’ve been taking them like hotcakes, from what I’ve seen,” Holloman’s colleague Parks-Foster said.

To Wright, Holloman’s initiative and creativity are what the mini-fairs are all about. Health-fair visitors were introduced to a product that could make their community safer, and Holloman got some real-world experience in dealing with drug manufacturers, which will inevitably help her in her career in either psychiatric or palliative pharmacy (she’s still deciding).

“It’s not just serving the underserved,” Wright said. “It’s being served in return.”