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Health fair kicks off National Health Centers Week

August 08, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Ryan Montes thought he had washed his hands well. He used soap and water, rubbed and rinsed.

But then he placed them under a black light inside a purple, hard-plastic box to determine how well he had done.

The results? Germy.

"I was surprised," said Ryan, 10, of Hagerstown. "I learned that I need to wash more carefully, up to my wrists and between my fingers so I won't have germs on my hands."

Ryan was not viewing actual germs. Rather, he was seeing glowing lotion meant to represent germs under the light of a GlitterBug View Box.

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Tracy Knable of the Washington County Health Department Environmental Health Division used the device to teach hand-washing awareness Saturday at the Walnut Street Community Health Center Health Fair.

"We use the GlitterBug View Box primarily to make people aware of how to wash hands and how they are spreading germs. Especially with (swine flu), we want to get out in the community and prevent some of that," Knable said.

The Health Department's Environmental Health Division was among 46 vendors who provided education and resources at the fair. Walnut Street Community Health Center's Health Services Coordinator Debbie Hilliard said the information provided by vendors had broad appeal.

"We've got it covered from the beginning of life to the end of life, from Head Start to Hospice," she said.

The fair was a celebratory kickoff of National Health Centers Week, which is the second week of August each year. Hilliard said people from Washington County and nearby West Virginia and Pennsylvania called ahead to learn more about the sixth annual fair. She said about 500 people attended last year, and attendance generally grows each year. The biggest draw of the fair, Hilliard said, was free health screenings.

"We provide things that people might not get otherwise," she said.

Health care providers offered screenings including blood pressure, random blood sugar, total cholesterol, and depression and anxiety. They also offered foot and breast exams, carpal tunnel evaluations and a prostate-specific blood test. Hilliard said local providers and Walnut Street staff volunteered their time.

Neurologist Sarim Mir said he likes attending health fairs to educate people.

"A lot of times, people leave their physician's office with fear and confusion. In my field, things related to the brain and nervous system can be hard to understand. I want to bring clarity and to remove fear, and give people some reliable resources," Mir said.

While many people who attended the fair were uninsured or underinsured, others had insurance but said they wanted to take extra precautions.

Charity Sweeney is a senior citizen who lives in Hagerstown.

"I think it's a good idea to compare the tests I get here with the ones I get at the doctor," Sweeney said.

Sweeney said she likes to take advantage of the screenings her doctor does not typically run, such as skin damage and bone density.

Todd Anderson said his family "hits the fair" every year. This year he took four of his children -- Elizabeth, 11, Christi, 10, John, 8, and Anthony, 4. Anderson said they enjoy the free entertainment, such as face painting, balloons and games. But he also recognizes the fair's value to the community.

"I think it's a good service. I hope that people learn from the vendors, and start to think about things like how much sugar is in the things we are eating and how much fat is in that Burger King Whopper," he said.

Gary and Janelle Kelley of Hagerstown said they were walking by the fair and stopped to check it out. Gary Kelley said he works with the benefits program at transportation company D.M. Bowman, dealing with medical insurance and health care programs. Kelley said he is always interested in wellness programs because they are known to significantly reduce health care costs and premiums.

"We want employees to be personally aware of things like their blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index, so we have all our employees take a health risk assessment. Some of the things I see here are similar to that," Kelley said. "I think it's really important for everybody to pay attention to their own personal health so health care costs are kept as low as possible."

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