Free health screenings draw hundreds to Guard event

By Bob Jackson

Visitors were welcome at the free health-screening event, regardless of income.

YOUNGSTOWN — Daniel Allshouse learned something about himself Saturday.

“I learned that I need to go to the dentist,” the 46-year-old Austintown man said, using his index finger to lift his upper lip and show his front teeth. “I found out that I have an abscess that needs fixing right away.”

Allshouse was one of hundreds of people who showed up Saturday, the first day of a four-day, free health-screening event at Youngstown Community Health Center on Wick Avenue, near the Youngstown State University campus.

“It’s wonderful. It’s just incredible how many people are coming out,” said Dr. Ronald Dwinnells. He is chief executive officer of Ohio North East Health Systems, a network of community health centers that includes YCHC.

Dr. Dwinnells said people were lining up to get in when the screenings opened at 8 a.m. Saturday, and said at least 200 people were there within the first two hours.

“The response has been fabulous,” he said. “I can’t wait to see the final numbers when the event is over.”

The event is actually called GuardCare: 2008 Healthy People, Healthy Places, and it’s a project of the Ohio Army National Guard. Free health screenings continue from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. today and also on Saturday and next Sunday.

The ONG’s medical command unit, which includes trained and certified medical personnel, provides free health services to children and adults across Ohio, regardless of their income.

Matthew Stefanak, Mahoning County health commissioner, said the National Guard has the screenings each year, always in a different county. This is the first time it’s been in Mahoning.

Stefanak said the original idea was to set up tents in the parking lot of the county health district’s offices on Westchester Drive in Austintown, but he suggested having the event at YCHC instead. He felt it would be better to bring the public into the health clinic and perhaps introduce underserved residents to medical staff with whom they could begin a health-care relationship.

“That’s one of our main goals,” Dr. Dwinnells said. “We want to get people into a normal health-care routine if they don’t already have one.”

He said many people in the Mahoning Valley don’t have health insurance and don’t have a “medical home,” instead using emergency rooms as their primary source of medical treatment.

“That’s costly and it’s inefficient,” he said.

Dr. Dwinnells said one woman came because she’d been having problems with her vision but didn’t know why. A free screening showed that she had glaucoma, for which she will now seek treatment.

“She had tears in her eyes, she was so grateful,” Dr. Dwinnells said.

Hopefully through GuardCare, people will be introduced to medical personnel from one of the area’s many health systems and hopefully begin a routine of regular care, he added.

Besides YCHC, other participating health-care organizations included Akron Children’s Hospital, Forum Health, Humility of Mary Health Partners, Hospice of the Valley, American Cancer Society, Planned Parenthood and the Salvation Army.

All sorts of medical and dental screenings were available, as well as free lab work.

Jennifer Sweitzer, 33, of Girard, was there with her daughters, Jade, 8, and Chloe, 5.

“I don’t have [health insurance] coverage, so I came out for the free screenings,” Sweitzer said. “I think it’s wonderful that they’re doing this. I hope they do it every year.”

Allshouse said he saw an advance story about the health fair in The Vindicator and decided right then that he would attend.

“I cut out that story and put it on my refrigerator,” he said. “I got up early this morning and came down because I wanted to do this. I think the whole community should come. My goodness, it’s free.”

Before he went home, Allshouse stopped by a vendors’ tent outside the clinic and got his arms loaded up with fresh sweet corn and other produce, distributed by Second Harvest Food Bank of the Mahoning Valley.

“I guess I’ll go home and have my girlfriend cook for me now,” he said with a big laugh.

Ashley Brink, 20, of Sebring, and Jeannine Grier, 33, of Youngstown, sat next to each other in hallway, each waiting her chance to see a doctor. Brink was getting a meningitis shot, necessary before she begins attending college this fall at Kent State University. Grier simply wanted to get a physical and a dental checkup.

“It’s a pleasure for us to be able to utilize our skills like this, serving the civilian communities,” said 1st Sgt. Clifford Thomas, a Youngstown resident who serves with the ONG’s Charlie Company 237 out of Akron.

“This is a mission we do all over the state,” Thomas said. “It’s a way for us go give back to the communities, while at the same time we get to train and develop our skills.”

Thomas said the turnout Saturday morning in Youngstown was among the highest he’s seen of any of the health screenings the ONG has done all over the state. “It’s been a huge thrill,” he said.

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