Updated at 3:06 p.m. on Tuesday, August 20, 2019, to correct photo cutlines and remove one reference to Howard High School in the last paragraph.
More than 6,000 area residents and 130 vendors flocked to Eastgate Town Center for the Hamilton County Minority Health Fair on Saturday.
Now in its 18th year, the fair aims to close gaps in health care disparities for minorities throughout the Southeast Tennessee region. It provides free education and screenings for a variety of health conditions ranging from high blood pressure and diabetes to asthma and sexually transmitted infections.
"We turn East Gate into a medical mall. It's a welcoming, festival event," director Chris Ramsey said. "The whole goal is for people to come in and get the screenings, get educated and get plugged into the health care system."
Ramsey said the event is designed to be both educational and empowering. This year set a new record for the number of attendees and vendors, with booths to address each major health disparity outlined in the 2019 Hamilton County "Picture of Our Health" report. The report detailed how minorities in Hamilton County are more likely than white people to die or get sick from certain health conditions.
"If this [health fair] wasn't happening, some people would never see a doctor," he said. "We are going to have to continue to pay attention to our health throughout the year, but this will hopefully galvanize the community."
Heather Melton, executive director of the Kidney Foundation of Chattanooga, said the group has provided free kidney screenings at the fair for years. It's "by far" the foundation's biggest local outreach event. Typically, Kidney Foundation volunteers screen about 200 people at the fair each year.
In addition to testing participants' urine for signs of kidney disease, such as blood or protein, they perform free blood pressure and diabetes checks.
"We're looking for red flags. But also, diabetes and high blood pressure are the leading causes of kidney disease," Melton said. "A lot of times, people don't understand that diabetes and high blood pressure are linked to your kidneys, and it's very predominant in the Hispanic and African American communities. That's why it's so important for us to be here."
For those whose urinalysis comes back positive, volunteer nephrologists are on site to counsel participants on steps they need to take to hopefully avoid dialysis down the road.
"Sometimes, your primary care physician isn't checking your kidneys unless you're presenting signs that something could be wrong, because the test is a little bit costly," Melton said. "So we go and get grants and we fund raise all year long with big events to try and have enough money to run this program where we can do it for free."
There were 52 nurse practitioner and nurse anesthetist students from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga School of Nursing also on site, conducting free health screenings and guidance.
The health fair is hosted by the Southeast Tennessee Health Consortium, Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Omega Psi Phi fraternity and Delta Sigma Theta sorority.
For people on the Southside, Cempa Community Care's Inaugural Health Fair will be held Saturday, Oct. 12, from 11 a.m to 3 p.m. at Howard High School. People can visit Cempa.org to pre-register.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.