Community health fairs focus on heart health

Over a two-week span in March, Northeastern pharmacy faculty members and students hosted a series of health fairs in the Boston area to provide free blood-pressure screenings to community members as well as education on topics ranging from heart health to smoking cessation.

The effort, led by pharmacy practice associate professor Kathy Bungay and visiting assistant clinical professor Christine Chim, was supported by a grant from the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Foundation. It was part of “Team Up, Pressure Down,” a component of the Million Hearts initiative launched in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.

Northeastern’s School of Pharmacy in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences was the only pharmacy school in Massachusetts to receive funding in the first round of awards to set up these health fairs and provide patient screening data back to the NACDS.

Between March 16 and 28, about 30 Northeastern students and 11 faculty volunteered at the health fairs in Boston’s neighborhoods, as well as in Somerville and Lynn; a total of 214 patients received screenings. Fairs were held in areas with heavy foot traffic, and because the sites were located close to local health centers, community members deemed at risk were easily referred to those health facilities.

Bungay noted that the health fair initiative also served as a greater effort in the School of Pharmacy to have faculty members working at various sites in the Boston area all join forces on a single community effort.

“This is one of what we hope will be many projects with our ambulatory care practitioners, because there is so much need in the community,” Bungay said. “There was great synergy in us all working together with our students, who were on clinical rotations and volunteering from several student organizations.”

Added Chim: “We really wanted to instill in the students the importance of connecting with their communities through events like these health fairs.”

Jennifer Giles, a graduate student pursuing her doctorate in pharmacy, volunteered at two sites—which was her first experience working in a community health fair setting.

“It was a great learning experience,” she said. “I love the idea of reaching out and providing access to healthcare to people who need it most but often don’t get it. It felt good to make an impact in my community by giving only a few hours of my time.”

Third-year pharmacy student Katie Zheng volunteered at one of the health fairs held at the Chinatown YMCA, where she and other students from Northeastern’s chapter of the Student National Pharmaceutical Association set up a bake sale featuring an assortment of healthy snacks.

Zheng, who speaks Chinese, helped one elderly Chinese woman who didn’t speak English, introducing her to a graduate student giving the blood-pressure screenings and facilitating a discussion on the woman’s overall health.

“She was very grateful because I think she felt she could open up to someone and not get lost in the conversation because we were talking on her level. It was the highlight of my day,” Zheng said.