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Screenings a popular attraction at HealthSmart Expo
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Catherine Castro-Ramirez, right, of The Longstreet Clinic, takes a blood sample from Martha Herrera Wednesday morning at the Gainesville Civic Center during the HealthSmart Expo. The free health screenings offered cholesterol, blood pressure and hearing checks. - photo by Scott Rogers

With one person per minute signing up for free health screenings, it was easy to see one of the HealthSmart Expo’s top attractions in action.

The first floor of the Gainesville Civic Center was humming Wednesday morning as people were getting their cholesterol, blood pressure and hearing checked.

And for many attendees, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce’s HealthSmart is an annual ritual.

“I love the free health screenings,” said Melinda McCumber of Murrayville. “I have high cholesterol, so this is kind of an in-between my doctor visits. And it’s always nice to get the freebies.”

Most Fit companies

The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce handed out awards in these categories:

50 or fewer employees: Turner Wood & Smith Insurance

51-250 employees: Syfan Logistics

251-plus employees: King’s Hawaiian

People who completed screenings got a free salad, but there were plenty of other goodies available, from snacks to pens. The 11th annual event also featured 60-plus wellness-oriented exhibitors with tables, brochures and company officials ready to field questions.

Those getting the screenings could get their results at a table set up by Gainesville-based Longstreet Clinic. People could talk to a nurse practitioner if they had any questions.

“Our results are coming faster than anticipated,” said Margaret Spratlin, working the table.

Joan Scales of Flowery Branch said she tries to attend the expo every year. A retired registered nurse, she has a keen interest in health care — especially her own.

“I think it’s great the community is offered these free checks,” she said. “If you have a health problem, it can be picked up when you don’t realize it.”

The event also featured a breakfast, with Food Network personality and chef Hans Rueffert as the breakfast’s keynote speaker.

Known as “The Chef Without a Stomach,” he had just finished participating in the first season of “The Next Food Network Star” when he was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

Owner of the Woodbridge Inn in Jasper, Rueffert said he has traveled to health fairs around the world.

“It’s such a universal truth that we are what we eat,” he said. “I’ve experienced that firsthand.”

Also, as part of the breakfast, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce handed out Most Fit Company awards to Turner Wood & Smith Insurance in the small employer category; Syfan Logistics, medium employer; and King’s Hawaiian, large employer.

The breakfast took on an especially serious tone as Lauren Darr, senior client manager for Cigna health insurance, talked about the nation’s opioid epidemic.

“Why should we care about this?” Darr said. “This is happening everywhere in our community. You probably have a friend or family member who’s been affected by addiction.”

Cigna has committed to reducing opioid use among its members by 25 percent over three years. The company has reported that OxyContin will not be covered as a preferred option on Cigna's group commercial drug lists effective Jan. 1.

“We’re definitely making strides,” Darr said.