PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Through Penn State Center Philadelphia, faculty and students at the University are working with community organizations in Philadelphia to create easier access to health screenings, low cost health care and advice on how to live a healthier lifestyle.
One of the first initiatives to come to fruition was a Health Fair at the South Philadelphia Community Health and Literacy Center on April 27. Shivaani Selvaraj, director for the Penn State Center Philadelphia, said the fair is a tangible result of the ongoing relationship between Penn State, the complex and the community.
“Penn State students offered free health screenings and nurses from the city's Health Center 2 and health practitioners from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) were there to provide guidance on follow-up care,” Selvaraj said. “A Zumbathon was organized to raise money for CHOP and the mobile unit from the Free Library of Philadelphia was there to enhance the importance of literacy to community health. Funding is provided in part by seed grants awarded to faculty members through the Penn State Center Philadelphia.”
Christopher Bopp, director of the Kinesiology Center for Fitness and Wellness at Penn State, said the screenings offered his students an opportunity to practice their skills in a community setting. In addition to the fair, his students have done screenings at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. and Delaware State University.
“At each location, we try to partner with local organizations willing to provide follow-up care to people when their screenings show abnormal values,” Bopp said. “Students are trained to complete blood pressure assessments, blood sugar and lipid readings via finger stick, measure aerobic fitness, muscular strength, endurance, flexibility and determine percent body fat which all helps to identify risk for chronic disease.”
Anthony Rosso, a kinesiology student at Penn State, said he appreciates the access to a wide variety of communities provided to him by initiatives like this one.
“Money is a significant barrier for people to become healthy. As students, it’s important for us to experience real people in different contexts from a wide range of racial backgrounds, income levels and health needs,” Rosso said. “Hopefully we’re helping people understand how they are living and inspire them to live more informed, healthier lives.”
Abigail Akande, assistant professor of rehabilitation and human services at Penn State Abington, and one of her students, Erinn Rajapaksa, attended the fair to add a mental health component to the resources provided to community members. Information sheets about anxiety, depression, stress, grief, alcohol and substance abuse were provided in English and Spanish.
“We gauged the temperature of the crowd by asking them ‘How are you feeling today?’ giving passersby the opportunity to stick a post-it note onto our table with a self-selected feeling word on it,” Akande said. “We also provided referral information for free and low-cost mental health services in the Philadelphia area.”
Sara Enes, director of the city's Health Center 2, said staff was on site to offer follow up for anyone whose screening identified them as at risk for chronic disease.
“The health centers provide full-service primary care to all Philadelphia residents regardless of insurance status. It is our goal to ensure that everyone who needs health care in Philadelphia can get quality care. While most major insurance providers are accepted, a small fee is assessed based on family size and income,” Enes said. “Our hope is that with the results of their health screening, members of the community who are not established in primary care left with a full understanding of the care we offer at Health Center 2.”
Selvaraj is representing the Penn State Center Philadelphia on the advisory board for the Philadelphia health care partners. They are planning for the Health Fair to be an annual event and are looking at opportunities to continue with additional events in diversified communities.