Sept. 30, 2004 For close to six hours on Wednesday, dozens of St. John seniors lined up in the hushed lower room of St. Ursula's Church, waiting their turn to sit at a bank of tables staffed by volunteers. They were picked, poked and probed. There were lots of questions asked, most about their health.
The morning interchange was part of CareForce 2004, a territorywide campaign sponsored by the V.I. Medical Institute, the American Association for Retired Persons, and Hovensa. The goal of the four-day campaign was to promote better health among older Virgin Islanders.
About 1,700 older residents are expected to benefit from this year's Careforce campaign, which began four years ago with the help of the Indiana National Guard.
On St. John, Eirleen January was one of many seniors who sat patiently for her turn at the blood sugar testing station. She said she came "to check on my body and see that everything's working right."
Further down the line, other seniors had their feet checked, measured their blood pressure and cholesterol levels and lined up for flu vaccine and pneumonia shots.
Former AARP State President Sam Morch said, "The point is to try to get as many people, particularly the high-risk ones, 65 years of age and older and those who have chronic diseases. That's what we're trying to do here."
Morch said the fall is a good time to make flu shots available to seniors, around the start of the annual flu season.
On St. Thomas the fair was held Wednesday and Thursday at the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in Estate Tutu. Dr. Cora Christian, Director of the V.I. Medical Institute was on hand there Thursday. She said she expected close to 600 St. Thomas seniors would attend the fair and get health screenings before the day was out. Between 400 to 500 are believed to have showed up on the first day.
About 1,000 seniors showed up to take advantage of free health testing on St. Croix, Dr. Christian said. Helping to prevent flu and pneumonia in seniors is particularly important, she said. "We are trying to service the elderly because the flu and pneumonia are the cause for 90 percent of the deaths in that age group and the third leading cause of hospitalizations."
Christian said she did not have hard figures Thursday but estimated 70 percent of all those who attended the fair took advantage of the immunizations.
According to St. John AARP President Sally Browne Wednesday's health fair was the fourth such event presented at St. Ursula's Multipurpose Center. Within the first three hours, there was enough public response — 50 visitors — to use up the supply of registration forms. Browne attributed the turnout to the successful outreach that goes on prior to the fair.
By 2 in the afternoon, 50 more seniors came through the doors, which Dr. Christian said was "amazing for little St. John."
"This has been a very good year and I understand St. Croix did very well as well," said Browne, a retired public health nurse. St. Thomas held its CareForce fair on Wednesday, as did St. John. St. Croix held a two-day fair, which began on Monday.
Encouraging seniors to take advantage of the services offered. Having AARP as a recognized sponsor helps, said Browne, as does the fact that the testing is free. Organizers said that's important because many low-income seniors are enrolled in a portion of the Medicare program that requires them to meet a minimum expense before they can take advantage of free doctor
visits that are part of that federal program. Knowing the health fair is held at the same place year after year also helps St. Johnians think of adding the CareForce campaign to their array of annual health habits.
Browne also said it's a matter of trust, one the director of the medical institute values highly. Older people can be reluctant to answer personal questions posed by unfamiliar people, she said. "We really appreciate the confidence people have in us because most of them don't know us personally."
Christian also thanked all the corporate and local organizations that helped furnish medical supplies, volunteers, venues or refreshments for Careforce 2004, including the Health Department, Human Services, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, the American Legion, St. Croix Clinical Laboratory, Cranston-Dottin Laboratory of St. Thomas, the Army National Guard, Holiday
Inn, Subway, St. Thomas Dairy, Pub VI, St. Ursula's Church and the Lutheran Church of the Reformation.
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