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Health Wagon brings patients in from the cold

Mike Still • Mar 7, 2019 at 11:31 AM

WISE — Cold temperatures and icy pavement did not stop one part of spring from coming to Wise County on Wednesday.

The Health Wagon’s annual Spring Health Fair brought in a steady stream of people seeking physical exams, chest X-rays, ultrasounds, blood work, vaccinations, Medicaid enrollment, health education, social services and even free legal help.

Hosted by Zion Family Ministries in Wise, the fair continued the Health Wagon’s almost four-decade tradition of easing health care access in Southwest Virginia.

Health Wagon clinical director Paula E.S. Hill said this year’s fair drew on support from several organizations, including East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine, the University of Virginia Health System, the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, Remote Area Medical, the Philips Foundation and several more foundations and health care corporations.

“This got its start on the back porch of Sister Bernie (Health Wagon founder Bernadette Kenney),” Hill said as patients went from booth to booth to screening table to take advantage of the range of free services offered. “This year, we’re doing something different by not only helping people get access to health care but to legal services as well. Southwest Virginia Legal Aid and deputy director Joey Carico are here to help people who may not be able to afford medical help or help with legal problems too.”

Fair attendance has run about 100 patients a day, Hill said, and that number was expected to rise Wednesday despite cold weather.

One of the featured stations at the fair — Medicaid enrollment — highlighted a problem common to many people employed in the region, Hill said.

“People come for help in getting enrolled in Medicaid, but they may not be eligible for it because they are insured at their jobs,” Hill said. “Their insurance may have a high deductible, and they may not be able to afford that deductible either.”

Todd Carter with the Appalachian College of Pharmacy in Buchanan County said his volunteers help fair patients with diabetic screenings, counseling on their medicines and self-care.

He pointed to the rising problem over insulin access for diabetics.

“It’s either a too-high copay or patients have to switch brands and types of insulin because of the cost,” Carter said. “It’s a big disparity.”

Quillen College volunteers also helped with cardiology evaluations, and retired cardiologist Harry Turner joined them.

“Sometimes they have some really tough cases to figure out, and I’m here to try and be a resource,” Turner said.

Hill said that this year’s fair brought a needed donation from the Philips Foundation in the form of a new ultrasound machine. The machine got a workout Wednesday as volunteers from RAD-AID conducted exams. RAD-AID volunteer Jennifer Pierce of the University of Virginia said the nonprofit organization helps provide radiology services worldwide.

Women’s health services have been in high demand at previous Health Wagon events, and volunteer Cathy Conner with the Virginia Women’s Center said that trend continued on Wednesday.

“Many women that we see don’t have insurance, so they don’t know where to go,” Conner said.

Mammograms, pap smears and exams were part of the day’s range of services.

The Health Wagon will hold day two of the Spring Health Fair Thursday in Clintwood at EnerVest in Happy Valley from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, call the Health Wagon at (276) 328-8850 or visit thehealthwagon.org

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