ROBERT PIERCE • Leader & Times
In October, Southwest Medical Center partnered with more than 60 community organizations, county agencies and numerous local business to provide up-to-date information on a variety of health-related services.
SWMC Marketing and Business Development Director Janeth Vazquez said the Community Health Fair not only provided a great opportunity to reach out to community members, but also a chance to highlight all the wonderful organizations serving the area.
Vazquez said she was extremely happy with the turnout for this year’s health fair.
“Our health fair was a total success,” she said. “We had a lot of people show up. We had a high number of people come get their lab screening. I feel this year we had more participants overall.”
Vazquez said this year’s event also saw a more diverse population than in years past.
“We saw younger people,” she said. “We saw a lot of families come out together. We saw a different population we typically didn’t see in the past.”
Likewise, Vazquez said the 2022 health fair, the 13th annual edition of the event, had more people come to the Activity Center than prior years, and she liked that many families are now putting health as a priority and making the health fair a family activity.
“We would see parents with their children come out,” she said. “The parents would get their lab screenings, and the children were asking questions. They participated. They got to go to the different booths. There were activities for everybody, but it was cool to see this turn into a family activity.”
Vazquez said the large numbers of people came from the surrounding areas as well, taking the opportunity to ask health care-related questions.
Many of those in attendance at the Community Health Fair took advantage of free health screenings and the chance to learn about local health services, but above all else, Vazquez said the health fair saves lives.
“I truly think it has a huge impact in our community, and it makes me emotional talking about it,” she said. “There’s numerous stories throughout the year.”
This particular year, though, Vazquez recalled the story of a single mother who came to the health fair.
“She came a few minutes late, and it was because she requested to get out of work early, but the train got in the way,” she said. “She was two to three minutes late. When she was coming in the door, somehow, I started talking to her. I asked her, ‘What are you here for?’ She told me she was extremely sorry she was a few minutes late. She told me she got out of work early because she wanted to get her daughter’s eyes checked.”
Vazquez said the mother was struggling financially, and the health fair provided her with her only opportunity to have her children’s health checked.
“This was her only opportunity to have her daughter see someone to see if they need glasses,” she said.
Vazquez said hearing stories like this adds to the impact she sees from the health fair.
“The mom got emotional because she thought she was late,” she said. “She was almost in tears, and that’s where she went on to say, ‘If you guys don’t let me come in, I don’t know when I’m going to be able to take my daughter to see the optometrist. I am a single mom. I have no money. This is my only opportunity to bring my daughter to see someone to get their eyes checked.’ She was telling me all this almost in tears, and you could tell she was stressed. She really needed this service.”
With many low-income families in the community, Vazquez said the impact of the health fair becomes even larger, as does the impact from the personal testimonies from it.
“They don’t have insurance, or they’re struggling financially,” she said. “They don’t get to see a doctor until they go to these type of events.”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Community Health Fair was eventually canceled. While it may seem this had an effect on this year’s numbers, Vazquez said she believes it had more impact on numbers for 2021.
“There are people who cannot afford to go to the doctor,” she said. “There’s people who don’t have the luxury who don’t feel well or are struggling with something and cannot go see a specialist or a physician to see what is going on with them.”
Vazquez said she personally saw the effects from the cancelation of last year’s health fair, as she took phone calls from people needing to have screenings done.
This is Vazquez’s third year coordinating the health fair, and she said she is getting better with each year.
“The first one, I started literally two weeks before the health fair,” she said. “I had a huge checklist. My first year, I was learning about the hospital. I was learning what the health fair was. I was basically going off a checklist. I was just in a hurry trying to get everything done because we were two weeks away, and I was brand new to the hospital.”
Vazquez said the second year was her most challenging because of the pandemic.
“We tried to organize it, but then we postponed it,” she said. “Then we canceled it, so it didn’t happen.”
Because of this, Vazquez said she actually considers this her first year organizing a health fair, and she feels more confident in what she is doing.
“Instead of a checklist, it’s more personal now because I now see the true impact it has in our community,” she said. “Before, it was me working on trying to get a lot of the logistics done.”
In planning the health fair, Vazquez now also works with SWMC Marketing Coordinator Rachel Downing, which she considers an honor.
“It’s two of us who organize this event,” she said. “It’s an honor to organize this event because it’s truly saving and transforming lives, and it’s something I’m very passionate about now. I think it’s hearing those personal stories that push me to want to continue to provide as many free health screenings as we can and to be able to put on a good health fair.”
Vazquez said her goal is to make the health fair better each year, offering more health screenings, doing a better job and continuing an event that is much needed in the community. This year, however, one of her personal goals was to create a bigger outreach.
“I know there’s still a population in our community who didn’t know about this health fair,” she said. “I made it my goal to blast it everywhere – social media, radio, newspaper, community presentations.”
In September alone, Vazquez estimated she gave about 50 presentations about the health fair, but her ultimate goal was to increase awareness and let people know the event was happening.
“We really promoted this health fair, and I think it paid off because in the long run, we did see higher numbers,” she said. “This year, we had 778 lab screenings, and I believe last year, we had close to 700.”
Though she was unsure of the exact numbers, Vazquez said many more people attended this year’s Community Health Fair.
“It was busy,” she said. “It was pretty crowded.”
Vazquez said for the 2023 health fair, she will be able to track an exact number of people coming through the doors.
“There were some people who came to look, to talk to the vendors,” she said. “There’s a lot of vendors who give free giveaways. There’s some who came for the lab screenings. There’s some who came alone. There’s some who came together as a family. It was more of a priority for me to be able to keep track of the amount of screenings performed, but next year, I’ll have a more exact number of people who walked through those doors. I can tell you this year, it was a higher.”
Screenings performed at this year’s health fair include:
• 778 lab screenings
• 117 pulse oximetry exams
• 96 sleep lab assessments
• 77 cardiac rehab tests
• 271 blood pressure exams
• 11 ortho exams
• 103 oral cancer screenings
• 96 clinical breast exams
• 157 skin cancer screenings
• 62 field of vision screenings
• 60 vision acuity screenings
• 7 pediatric vision screenings
• 135 blood glucose exams
• 50 musculoskeletal evaluations
• 117 diabetes risk assessments
The 2022 Community Health Fair was generously sponsored by The Community Bank, Golden Plains Credit Union, Seward County Broadcasting, La Mexicana, Conestoga Energy Partners, LLC, State Farm Agent Aaron Knudsen, Southern Office Supply, EPIC Touch, Southern Pioneer Electric Company and Southwest Medical Center.
“We would like to thank everyone who helped put together this year’s health fair and those who attended,” Vazquez said. “A special thanks to the Seward County Event Center staff for being great hosts and providing the perfect venue for this important outreach event.”
Vazquez said health fair organizers look forward to seeing everyone again during next year’s health fair, scheduled for Oct. 7, 2023, and she is ready to start planning the event.
“We’ve already had some discussions on how we can make it better,” she said. “We’re pretty confident once again, it’s going to be a huge success. I think this next health fair, I’m going to push a little bit earlier. I’m going to start talking about the health fair in July. Typically, we wait until August, September, but we’re already starting to get ready.”