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Health fair partners with Brenau University nursing school
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Keeta Wilborn, chairwoman of Brenau’s nursing school, talks about the screenings available at the health fair.

This isn’t the first year that St. John Baptist Church has sponsored a community health fair for Gainesville’s Southside. But for the first time, the church’s health ministry is partnering with Brenau University’s Department of Nursing to organize the event.

Last year, the nursing school moved from the main Brenau campus to the Featherbone Communiversity building off Chestnut Street, an area very close to the neighborhoods served by the health ministry.

"We used to hold the health fair at the E.E. Butler gym," said Sharon Wilmont-Harrison, a registered nurse and vice president of the health ministry. "But I think the nursing school will be a good location. It’s smack in the middle of the Southside. People will be able to walk to it."

The fair is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Everything is free, and visitors are encouraged to bring their families.

Dr. Keeta Wilborn, chairwoman of Brenau’s nursing department, said there will be refreshments, children’s activities and entertainment out in the parking lot, and the health fair itself will be inside the building.

Dr. Lolita Chappel-Aiken, a nursing professor at Brenau, said the event fits the mission of the health ministry, which she started about 10 years ago.

"Our goal is to decrease health disparities (among minorities)," she said. "We want the community to know that we are here to serve them."

Wilborn said school officials are excited about giving the public a chance to see their new facility.

"This is our first time at Brenau East to host an event like this," she said. "We’re hoping for a big turnout."

Wilborn said nursing students have been making posters, distributing fliers, and even going door-to-door in neighborhoods where people may not get their news through traditional media.

"The students can get (school) credit for it," she said. "This is the community experience that’s required for their clinical coursework."

The undergraduate students will also be putting up educational exhibits and helping with screenings for hypertension, diabetes, and other conditions that are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Meanwhile, the graduate students, who are already nurses but are pursuing advanced degrees, will be working with teens on adolescent health issues.

Brenau’s psychology department will also be on hand to offer tips for stress and anxiety reduction, and provide information about the university’s counseling service. And Brenau’s occupational therapy students will discuss how to make households safe for elderly residents.

Blood tests will be available to screen people for HIV, anemia, and sickle cell anemia, among other diseases. Wilmont-Harrison said the health ministry wanted to including testing for sickle cell because it’s a disease that mostly affects African Americans, and the Southside population is predominantly black and Hispanic.

In addition, Northeast Georgia Health System will bring its mobile mammography unit on site to screen women for breast cancer, and men will have the opportunity to be screened for prostate cancer.

Wilmont-Harrison said they were not able to offer prostate exams when the health fair was at the E.E. Butler gym. "But in the nursing school, they have several private rooms that we can use," she said.

Wilborn said any patient who tests positive on any of the screenings will receive care, regardless of ability to pay.

"If we find anything abnormal, the health ministry has a number of agencies and local physicians that do follow-up after the health fair," she said.

Wilmont-Harrison said last year, one patient tested positive for sickle cell. "And we had five women with breast lumps (on their mammograms)," she said. "Northeast Georgia Medical Center gave them biopsies at no charge, and one of them turned out to have breast cancer."

Wilmont-Harrison said putting together the health fair is a huge task, and it takes so much time away from her work and family life that she thought about not volunteering anymore.

But then she thinks about that woman with cancer whose life may have been saved. And the little boy who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes after attending the health fair several years ago.

"If you can help just one person, it makes it all worthwhile," she said.