“Without the minority health fair, a lot of people would not have access to these screenings.”
Bryant Lowery avoided going to the doctor because he had no health insurance, but a doctor at the minority health fair several years ago saw him anyway.
Dr. Michael Geer, who specializes in cardiology, determined Lowery's blood pressure level indicated he could have a stroke.
This year nearly 140 health care vendors and physicians will provide free screenings at one of the largest health fairs in Tennessee. The 13th Annual Hamilton County Minority Health Fair — "Empowering and Educating Minorities to Close the Health Gap" — is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Eastgate Town Center.
"For some people, this is their primary health experience for the year," said Erskine Oglesby, minority health planning committee member.
If you go
* What: Minority Health Fair
* When: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday
* Where: Eastgate Town Center
More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the event. Organizer Chris Ramsey said vendors tell him it's the largest health fair in the region.
Free screenings include dental checks, high blood pressure and stroke risk, cholesterol, checks for sexually transmitted diseases including AIDS and foot care.
"Without the minority health fair, a lot of people would not have access to these screenings," Oglesby said.
The Omega Psi Phi and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternities started the health fair in 2002 to provide prostate cancer screening for men. The event expanded to include Delta Sigma Theta sorority, which brought health services to women and children.
"It's grown every year since inception," Oglesby said. "That indicates to us that there is need to keep this program going."
About 15 percent of Hamilton Countians lacked health insurance in 2014, with blacks and Hispanics accounting for a higher percentage of the uninsured, said Ramsey, director of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee's Office of Health Care Reform.
Participants don't have to be uninsured or a minority, organizers said.
Every screening and educational service is offered under one roof, said George Ricks, Erlanger Medical Center's health center community outreach coordinator.
Ricks and other health center representatives will be available at the fair with information about the Affordable Care Act. Local bands and dancers will provide live entertainment.
According to the Ochs Center's Health 2013 State of the Chattanooga Region Health Report, black adults were more than twice as likely as white adults to be uninsured.
Death rates among blacks in Hamilton County also were significantly higher. Diabetes-related deaths were more than double, while those related to stroke were 20 percent higher. And death rates related to heart disease were 61 percent higher for blacks than whites.
Lowery said the Minority Health Fair may have saved his life.
He started attending the fair about three years ago as a volunteer for Habitat For Humanity.
Since he was already there, he decided to participate in screenings, he said.
Dr. Geer tested Lowery's blood pressure. It was at stroke level.
Geer told Lowery to be at his office Monday morning. When Lowery said he didn't have insurance, Geer told him to come anyway.
"He said, 'I don't care what you don't have, we can get your blood pressure down to an acceptable level.' That began my journey to effectively manage the hypertension," said Lowery, who now has insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Dr. Joy Russell, a local podiatrist who provides free foot screenings at the fair, said she's honored to serve people who attend.
"I'm from Chattanooga, born and raised, and events like this, strictly pro bono, give opportunity to give back to the community," she said. "Especially to the people who don't have insurance and can't go to the doctor. It's a chance to treat them and help them stay in good health."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at email@example.com or 757-6431.