Health fair draws hundreds to YMCA for free screenings
Angela Thomas walked from her Gorsuch Avenue home to a health fair at the neighborhood YMCA, determined to find information on available services, take advantage of the free screenings and talk with professional providers.
"You have got to get your health right," she said. "Whatever they have got for me here, I am going to take advantage of it."
Before she left the event Saturday at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg YMCA on East 33rd Street, Thomas, 52, had filled a free tote bag with pamphlets and healthy snacks. Had she not already had a flu shot, she would have lined up for one at the fair, she said. She did undergo a few routine checks. She discovered that her blood pressure was fine but that her blood sugar was a little too high.
"I will be calling my doctor Monday for a follow-up," she said. "You have to do the prevention stuff."
To help dispel misinformation circulating about health care legislation, Baltimore HealthCare Access Inc. organized the fair and forum, the first in a quarterly series this year designed to educate the public on the latest health initiatives. It drew dozens of providers and hundreds of people curious about the changes as well as the resources and services provided.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said that the fair "kicks off many efforts to explain health care reform" and that the YMCA offered the perfect background.
"This 'Y' is part of our health plan for the city," she said. "We made sure our youth and our elderly can participate here."
Sporting a T-shirt that said "Power to end strokes," Wanda Carter handed out tote bags, pens and heart-healthy cookbooks as she encouraged visitors to sign up for the latest news from the American Heart Association.
"This is a great way to learn how to stay healthy and the 'Y' is a great setting with all its opportunities," Carter said.
While children were occupied with crafts and athletic activities, their parents moved among the booths. Some participants found they already qualified for enrollment in various government-sponsored programs, said Kathleen Westcoat, president of Baltimore HealthCare Access.
"These forums will get the word out to the community about the changes and benefits that are here or coming as a result of health care reform," Westcoat said. "There is a lot of misinformation out there. We want to make sure people understand the facts and are not scared about what they don't know. The idea is to talk to consumers and lay out all the facts."
More than 96,000 city residents are uninsured, officials said.
"No one should go without health care or lose their life savings and their home because of a health crisis," said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who was among several officials to address the crowd.
Reforms will be phased in through 2014, but the fair will help residents navigate programs and gain access to care now, officials said. "This will result in healthier, more productive citizens," Rawlings-Blake said.
City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young urged the crowd to "take all you can out of this fair and share it with your neighbors."
Two in the audience complained of escalating insurance costs and won promises of assistance from officials.
"I have seen my health care increase 40 percent in the last three years, but not my wages," said Hardwick Spencer of Ednor Gardens. "I am hoping for Obama care, but I want a bottom line on the costs."
Jill DiMauro, a self-employed city resident, said her insurer has offered her less coverage at the same monthly premium or the same coverage with a 20 percent increase.
Westcoat said those increases result from "insurance companies focused on the bottom line. Our goal is to have them focus on patient care."
Democratic Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger said only education will dispel the myths and misinformation surrounding changes in health care.
"The average family pays $13,500 in annual insurance premiums," he said. "If we do nothing, that would grow to $25,000 in 10 years. The country cannot afford that."
Ruppersberger said he expects the Republican-controlled House will vote to repeal health care as early as next week. But he does not expect the Senate to follow suit. Even iff that happens, he said, the repeal would not survive a presidential veto.
"I feel health care reform will move forward," he said. "I hope we can all come to the table as Americans on a good bill."
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