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Health fairs are good medicine at housing sites

Posted by | Catholic Charities Communications

At the more than 1,000 than affordable apartments built and served by Catholic Charities of Oregon, the medical house call is not a thing of the past.

On a regular basis, Catholic Charities and Providence Health and Services organize health fairs in the common areas of housing sites so residents can get vaccines, have blood pressure checked, pick up health tips and ask pressing questions, even those that are long overdue.

“People say, ‘I haven’t been to a primary care doctor in years,’” said Sally Erickson, manager of Supportive Services for Catholic Charities of Oregon. Erickson has witnessed residents get tested for diabetes and learn on the spot they have it and need to manage the condition.

Providence is the workhorse of the health fairs, sending nurses to give shots, conduct consultations and answer questions.

“In this setting we can give people a lot more time and attention than we could in a clinic,” said Teresa Johnson, clinical operations supervisor for the health access community team at Providence. “This makes it more comfortable when you come to where they are.”

Johnson is often on site at the health fairs. She appears to love every minute.

“Covid taught us that coming out and being visible and being onsite gives that trust back to the community,” she said. “I hope they see we are here, and we care, and we want to deliver some amazing health care to them.”

At the health fairs, Providence staff frequently help residents understand health coverage. For someone from out of the country, the U.S. health system is a daunting puzzle. Also, nurses often explain medication and follow-up care after doctor visits.

A patient speaks with Providence nurses during an October health fair at Kateri Park apartments, a Catholic Charities Community.

At the fairs this fall, residents have been getting free flu vaccines as well as the new COVID shots. The National Council on Aging provided a grant to cover vaccine costs.

At one recent health fair, a chef was on site giving demonstrations regarding healthy cooking.

Erickson of Catholic Charities said the beauty of onsite health fairs is the easy access to help.

“This brings health care to people who may not have a primary care provider or who may have had difficulty navigating the health insurance system,” Erickson explained.

Residents with mobility challenges can roll down the hall or ride the elevator to get medical care instead of struggling to the bus stop in the rain.

A boy relaxes with a team of Providence nurses during an October health fair at Kateri Park apartments, a Catholic Charities Community.

Catholic Charities and Providence are partners in what’s called the Healthy Housing Initiative. It’s a national campaign launched by Catholic Charities USA to boost both housing and health care, two steps in recognizing human dignity.

“We’re trying to bring improved health to residents at all our affordable housing properties,” said Erickson.

Cheyenne Little, a social work student at Portland State University, is an intern at Catholic Charities of Oregon. She said the fairs have both health and social benefits.

While vaccines and eating tips are vital, they’re even better when they come amid resident friendships.

Chef Tim Shevlin demonstrates healthy and tasty cooking during an October health fair at Kateri Park apartments, a Catholic Charities Community.

“Relationship building is very important,” said Little. “Residents can meet people in the community they don’t know, or friends can just have a moment to have a snack together.”