ELKHART — The line stretched four city blocks. About 3,000 people lined up to take advantage of the back-to-school deals: free vaccinations, free haircuts, free groceries, free physicals and free backpacks to families. No questions asked.
The yearly outreach event hosted by the Elkhart County Minority Health Coalition last month drew record crowds, as Elkhart County’s jobless numbers hovered around 18 percent and little growth in the economy promised few new jobs.
“We won’t get to all these people,” said Tara Morris, executive director of the Minority Health Coalition, as she gestured outside to the line of people who waited up to four hours to get in the free health fair. “We’re going to try. We’ll probably hit 3,000 or more out here today.”
Attendance at the fair broke 2008’s record of 900 people, demonstrating increased need for health assistance in the county. In a partnership with several community organizations, the fair brought essential services — food, clothing, immunizations — to families that might not be able to afford them.
It’s a mission Morris strives for daily.
“We are that community navigator,” Morris said. “We make sure we have the in on dental, vision, physicians’ offices. We make sure that those individuals link to those agencies. Because one of the things we found out is that sometimes you need that liaison, that liaison to help you find a voice.”
Morris said her clients need that extra push in connecting to available health resources.
“Otherwise they just go there and try to set up a rapport and it doesn’t work,” she said. “Then they just walk way and they haven’t been serviced. We are navigating them through the system. That’s the best way to get them to the services we know they need.”
The coalition works with Center for Healing and Hope, a network of churches that provides urgent care clinics for the uninsured, local low-cost health centers and local state offices to provide that assistance for the people of Elkhart County.
Of the 139 clients in Monica Brooks’ Indiana Women’s Diabetes Initiative, only 14 are black women. The program is in its second of three years, and is active in only three Indiana counties. It seeks to educate diabetic women 18 years and older about the disease and make sure they are actively treating it.
“With the population of the African-Americans in this county, I should have more African-American patients,” said Brooks, project coordinator for the pilot program, funded by the Indiana State Department of Health’s Office of Women’s Health. “Maybe I’m just not getting the message to them.”
Families who use Heart City Health Center for dental and medical visits can receive at least a 50 percent discount on usual fees, depending on their income levels, said Don Findlay, founder of the dental clinic there. More people are walking through the center’s doors this summer than last, according to Findlay.
“In a family that had a job, had health insurance, now that family doesn’t have a job, doesn’t have health insurance and they’re living on unemployment compensation,” he said. “They need the discounted medical services just to make ends meet for the family.”
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