Health fair offers free screenings, tests

Organizations from around the region — including Jefferson Regional Medical Center, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Arkansas Minority Health Commission and the Southeast Arkansas Healthcare Coalition — held the Community Diabetes Health Fair & Family Wellness Expo on Saturday at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.

The event was free to the public and offered screenings and check-ups. Legoria Payton of Project E3 Health and Wellness Initiative said the event was held in order to help those in need within the community.

“We have nurses and doctors on hand that can check blood pressure and cholesterol, but we also have breast exams, prostate exams, and we are testing for H.I.V. and sickle cell.” said Payton, who served as the event’s director.

Payton said the sponsorship of hospitals and companies in the area as well as volunteers from the Southeast Arkansas College School of Nursing and UAMS made it possible to conduct more thorough screenings than might be typical at such events.

“We had a man that came in earlier whose blood sugar was so high we sent him to the hospital. Who knows how long he had been walking around like that?” Payton said.

Booths lined the hall with testing and demonstrations on different health issues. One table had a model of a woman’s chest with mock tumors placed inside so that people could feel what a breast with a tumor is really like.

Tonja Hughes placed her fingers on the breast exam model and found three tumors that were hidden inside.

“Some people might feel something in their breast but ignore it because they don’t know what it is,” Hughes said, “but being able to see what a tumor feels like, you won’t ignore that.”

Hughes said events like the Health Expo are a good thing for the community because they offer screenings to those who don’t have insurance or money for doctors’ visits.

Hughes has health insurance but still saw the benefit to those who have less access to medical care.

“I use it as a pre-office visit just to make sure that everything is going well so when I do see my doctor I’m not surprised,” she said.

Hughes said wishes more people would attend events like Saturday’s.

“I think fear is what keeps people from checking on themselves.” Hughes said.

Shara Dukes, a student in the SEARK School of Nursing, smiled and gladly took patrons’ blood pressure as they came by her booth.

She wrote down results and handed them to each person after she removed the cuff from their arms.

“It’s a good idea,” said Dukes, who is studying to become a registered nurse. “I get a chance to get hands-on with things on my tests, and I can relate better to what I’m learning.”

With health care costs so high, and so many people without insurance, health fairs can be a great resource to a community.

“People don’t check on their health like they should, and we are here for free to do that,” said Sharon Armour, a registered nurse who holds a master’s degree in nursing.

Music filled the hall as exercise demonstrations were held at center stage. “Mr. Get Better” led crowds in aerobic dance, making for a festive mood.

“Let’s move, everybody!” yelled Jimmy Lee Robinson, whose shirt was emblazoned with “Great Day!” as he led the group.

“It’s a friendly atmosphere and we just want to get people healthy,” Payton said.