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Inaugural WU Health Fair a success

Niklas Martin

“When you have a platform to educate all types of people, you should take advantage of that opportunity.”

Wingate University School of Pharmacy student Trana Rashid summed up the primary purpose of the University’s Health and Wellness Fair, held Saturday at the Union County Agriculture Center in Monroe and sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, Novant Health, Walgreens, Union County Human Services, Community Health Services of Union County, McAlister’s Deli and Food Lion.

Roughly 250 area residents showed up for the event, which offered screenings, learning activities and takeaways at more than 70 booths.

“This event exceeded our expectations,” said Dr. Carolyn Ford, Wingate’s director of community health outreach and a professor in the School of Pharmacy. “I spoke to some people who came and stayed the entire time, from 10 to 2.”

She said Novant’s Community Care Cruiser parked outside the Ag Center stayed busy giving childhood immunizations, and the Red Cross bus next to it collected more than 20 units of blood.

Inside, Rashid and classmate Dominique McClain used popcorn and a drawing of the lungs to help children and their parents get a mental picture of potential harm from vaping and smoking e-cigarettes. A few tables away, physician assistant students offered oral exams; physical therapy students helped youngsters learn to carry their backpacks without causing injury; and nursing students shared tips for managing stress.

Between dozens of student-led booths that offered information on HIV, breast health, colon cancer and more, community organizations engaged fair participants with their own health-related messages. Minutes after the free event opened, the facility buzzed with conversation and, at times, with music, when a Zumba instructor took to the stage to get folks moving.

Novant screened residents’ blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol levels; Walgreens had given nearly three dozen free flu shots by 1 p.m.; and Community Health Services screened and registered some 50 new patients for its free clinic, which treats those who are uninsured and between the ages of 18 and 64.

Cindy Cole, executive director of Community Health Services, located on Sunset Drive in Monroe, was thrilled by the turnout and the new doors being opened by the clinic’s growing partnership with Wingate University.

A physical therapy student checks a patient's arm strength at a health fair.

A Doctor of Physical Therapy student performs a musculoskeletal assessment on Mike Restaino with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina. The company was one of the main sponsors of the event.

“This has done wonders for increasing people’s awareness of Community Health Services,” she said. “And not just the fact that we have the partnership, but how that is affecting the number of patients that we can see and also decreasing those patients’ wait times. People who came to see us today are so excited to learn that there is another option besides going to the emergency room.”

The University began funding a full-time physician assistant at the clinic late last year, and health sciences students complete rotations there. On Saturday, interpreters helped the clinic’s medical staff meet the needs of Spanish-speaking residents.

Dr. Robert Supernaw, Wingate’s vice provost of health sciences and dean of the School of Pharmacy, said offering a wide range of services at the fair was an important goal.

“We put together a list of the needs we saw in the community, from pain management and flu shots to cardiovascular education, and then had our student organizations choose what areas they wanted to address,” Supernaw explained. He said diabetes and heart disease were high on the list of focus areas, based on local health data. According to the 2016 Union County Community Health Assessment, heart disease was second only to cancer as a cause of death between 2010 and 2014. Data USA shows Union’s diabetes rate at 9.5 percent, just over the national average, and Anson’s at 14.9 percent. The disease is more prevalent among African American and Latino populations.

In addition to learning about those and other illnesses via informational booths, diabetes patients could have their feet checked by a physical therapy student. The Doctor of Physical Therapy program, represented by 70 students at the fair, also performed balance/fall-prevention assessments and musculoskeletal checks and manned a booth about workplace ergonomics. In the children’s area, in addition to their backpack checks, PT students offered a healthy-plate booth and one on pediatric motor development.

When they weren’t performing oral exams, students from the Harris Department of Physician Assistant Studies helped youngsters learn their body parts, also in the kids’ zone. Nearby, nursing students screened participants for vision problems. Nursing student T.J. Gregg said that while participants sharpened their skills on the Prevent Blindness screening procedure, they also learned about the community.

“This showed me a lot about the diversity of our community and also revealed some of the health-insurance disparity, as we talked to some people who hadn’t had their eyes checked because they didn’t have that kind of coverage,” Gregg said.

Supernaw said that in addition to providing a range of free services to the public, the Health and Wellness Fair gave students practice interacting with patients.

“I’m so proud of our students not just standing by their booths but going out and interacting with people to draw them in,” he said. “While we’re here we want to do everything we can, because this could be the only time in a while that some people see a healthcare provider.”

University officials say they plan to make the community health fair an annual event.