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Free screenings are addressing communitys health from ground up

July 26, 2013

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“Community Connections” spotlights the many ways in which hospitals serve their communities. AHA members can learn more by visiting www.ahacommunityconnections.org.

Six years ago, a then 73-yearold Norma Avra went to see her doctor because she had been experiencing irregular bleeding.

“He told me not to worry,” said Avra, now 79. “He said I had kidney cysts, which were normal for people my age and that most people who have them never even know.”

But something didn’t feel right. So when 232-bed Good Samaritan Hospital in Vincennes, IN, offered its free health screening program in her town, Avra went.

She found out that her kidney was functioning at a dangerously low level. After following up with a specialist, she learned that she had polycystic kidney disease. “This shocked me; I had no idea,” said Avra. “I will get dialysis when the time comes, but I am so grateful that I was able to take advantage of Good Samaritan’s test and to find out what was wrong.”

Avra’s condition is one of
thousands that have been identified by Good Samaritan Hospital’s free preventative health screening program, which looks at everything from blood pressure to pap smears. Over the past decade, Good Samaritan has provided more than 220,000 screenings throughout a 10-county, two-state region covering Indiana and southeastern Illinois.

The free screening program has earned Good Samaritan a 2013 AHA NOVA Award, which honors hospital-led collaborative programs that help build healthier communities. Good Samaritan and the four other award recipients will receive the awards tomorrow, July 27, at the Health Forum/ AHA Leadership Summit in San Diego.

The hospital’s screenings are having an impact in the mostly rural communities it serves. “In 2010, we were above the national average on 15 out of 17 health measures,” said Sandra Ruppel Hatton, director of marketing and community health. “We follow up on every single critical abnormal value.”

The hospital markets the
screenings at community health clinics, libraries and through social media, but much of the screenings’ popularity comes from word of mouth. Two of the program’s biggest screenings are the women’s health evaluation in the spring and the men’s tune-up in the fall.

“When we first started the men’s tune-up, fewer than 200 people showed up,” said hospital president and CEO Robert McLin. “Last time, we had more than 900 – everyone from people in bib overalls to people in suits. Most of that was from word of mouth. It doesn’t matter where we host them, they show up.”

Many rural residents lack transportation, making it difficult for them to access health care services. So the hospital brings the screenings to the community. Volunteers and part-time nurses assist in providing the screenings and libraries, schools and YMCAs, among others, donate the space to control costs. The program has connected numerous patients with primary care physicians to better manage their health. And it addresses the needs of patients who are less likely to see a doctor, like migrant workers and the Amish.

The hospital bolsters its preventative health screenings with programs that encourage healthy behavior. It organizes men’s, women’s, and kids’ triathlons with the YMCA and Vincennes parks department. It sponsors “Fit Kids,” a program in which nurses go into thirdgrade classrooms to instruct kids on sugars, fats, reading labels and healthy lifestyles. The hospital also partners with Keep Vincennes Rolling, a bicycle safety advocacy group, to organize a “Ride Your Bike to School Day.”

“We made an effort to have a joint venture with the community,” said Alan Stewart, M.D., the hospital’s medical director for community health. “We started doing community health needs assessments to get a better idea of what the community needs were and we tailor our program to address those issues.”

By Meg Figley