“We are providing preventative healthcare for hundreds of local residents who have nowhere else to turn,” says Vivian Padron-Fajardo, PhD, ARNP. According to Fajardo, “community healthcare is not just my specialty, but also my love. I am truly humbled by the incredible opportunity these events have afforded myself and my beloved nursing students. We are providing a service which accomplishes the general goals for screening and early detection of severe health disorders.”
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Florida has the second-lowest rate of health insurance for people younger than 65 in the country, trailing only Texas. Excluding Medicare-eligible senior citizens, one in four Floridians lives without any form of medical coverage. According to Fajardo, “people who are underemployed or even unemployed are fighting to get by daily and for many preventive healthcare is not an option.” Fajardo says the numbers come as no surprise, “we are seeing patients with dangerous blood pressures above 220, high blood sugar levels that are walking time-bombs who haven’t seen a doctor or nurse practitioner in years.”
According to Fajardo, Community Healthcare is a calling to help those in need with nowhere else to turn for professional healthcare. “Consistent with our mission as nurses, we have an obligation to serve our community members. Some of our patient’s haven’t seen a doctor in several years. We have a chance to make a real difference in their lives by catching a potential life-threatening condition like heart disease, hypertension or diabetes early on. As I often tell my students, this is a major commitment and a calling to serve patients; we should never take that gift for granted.”
The School of Nursing and Health Studies Community Healthcare program was initially started in 2004 by Rosemary Hall, PhD. In 2008, Fajardo, says she developed a plan to expand on the excellent work accomplished by Hall, and “give back to the entire community.” Fajardo, wanted to bring preventative healthcare directly to the people by nearly doubling the number of community health fairs. According to Fajardo, “the Health Fairs serve as an opportunity to implement secondary preventive care to individuals in need.”
However, in many cases, we are these patient’s only option for healthcare. We screen for hypertension, hypercholesteremia, obesity, visual deficits, hyperglycemia and discuss HIV/AIDS and the potential of sexually transmitted diseases. We serve a population who are in much need of early diagnostic assessments and the vast majority of our patients have no primary care provider or even health insurance. I have seen the numbers of patients triple over the past few years.” Fajardo says she works closely with Cecilia Calderon Salzburg, Health Access Coordinator in Human Resources to identify patients across the community “we are focusing on independent contractors (not employees) who provide cleaning services, landscaping and even food preparation at the University who often struggle to visit primary care providers because of their financial constraints, a lack of time, or in some cases, a lack of any health insurance.
Although our mission is not to replace necessary primary care, we do have a unique opportunity to reinforce medication adherence or recommend further follow up with primary care physicians and nurser practitioners. These individuals count on us to provide them with guidance for their healthcare needs. Many of these independent contractors have no other healthcare, and in some cases may be afraid to seek care because of their perceived immigration status.
Nursing students as part of a class requirement, are staffing the health fairs and providing services ranging from blood pressure and blood sugar screening, to cholesterol checks, hypertension, Vision checks and Body Mass Index (BMI). “This program is making a difference in the community by catching health problems early allowing us to recommend alternatives to a healthier lifestyle by changing eating habits, creating a greater focus on nutrition, exercise and fitness, cholesterol reduction, healthy cooking, weight management and stress management.”
As part of the clinical requirements for students enrolled in the “Population Focused Nursing” NUR 440 course, nursing students are required to attend the health fair events. Nurses from the school are on the front lines working one-on-one with these patients gaining valuable skills and critical experience interacting with patients and at the same time to help improve the health of each one of their patients.”
There is nothing more rewarding than catching a problem early and preventing a heart attack or stroke. Fajardo and her small healthcare army of nursing students, have many friends and countless success stories of patients who they have touched throughout the Miami/Dade County community who are in a much healthier state today than they were just a few years ago when they first attended a health fair.“By providing each individual with teaching as they move from one screen station to the other, nursing students partner with each participant and demonstrate what I believe to be the crux of nursing: compassion, caring and commitment to serve.”
As the number of health fairs has grown, so too has the number of patients making return visits. “As nurses, our true reward is not financial but instead an emotional reward worth more than any amount of money. It is the hope that we have made a difference in at least one patient’s life. These health fairs provide my nurses with all the riches we need. Our students walk away with much more than they ever expected after these valuable events. My students are making a difference daily in our community.”