Volume 43 | Number 2 | Spring 2013

Truman Bishop gets his finger pricked for a glucose test during his health screening.

Photo by Chris Gabettas

ISU-Meridian Community Health Screens Improve Access to Health Care

Spring 2013 Issue | By Chris Gabettas

In early November, Truman Bishop sat on his skateboard in front of the CATCH office in downtown Boise, the site of a free Community Health Screening sponsored by the Idaho State University-Meridian Health Science Center and its community partners.

"I don't get to a doctor on a regular basis," said the self-employed Web technician. "I'm about to turn 40 and I want to make sure I don't have any major health problems."

Bishop is among the estimated 300,000 Idahoans who have no health insurance or limited access to health care. He says money has been tight in recent years, and he worries if he gets seriously ill, he won't be able to pay his medical bills.

The screening process takes 70 minutes and includes:

  • A basic physical exam, blood pressure check, and medication review
  • Dental evaluation
  • Hearing, depression and alcohol screenings
  • Glucose, HIV and hepatitis C testing
  • Mammogram referrals
  • Nutrition assessment
  • Flu shot
  • Preventive health education

ISU-Meridian is able to provide the screenings for uninsured adults through a partnership with Ada County, Central District Health and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Services are provided by ISU-Meridian student clinicians and faculty, who volunteer their time.

Screening co-directors Rick Tivis and Glenda Carr say the goal is to identify people at risk of preventable diseases and get them the medical care and health education they need before they become so ill they end up in hospital emergency rooms.

Carr, an assistant clinical pharmacy professor, says the screenings also give Meridian health science students real-world experience that extends beyond the classroom.

"They're able to see firsthand the value of an interdisciplinary approach to treating patients," she said.

SCREENING STATIONS

After completing a brief questionnaire, Bishop entered a room to have his hearing checked.

"Do you have any ringing or dizziness in your ears? Any pain?" a student clinician asked him.

Using an instrument called a tympanometer, she measured the air pressure in each of his middle ears.

She was looking for scar tissue, tumors, fluid or injury that could affect his hearing, explained Amy Hardy, an ISU-Meridian assistant clinical professor and speech-language pathologist, who was supervising the student.

At other stations, clinicians took Bishop's vital signs, tested his blood glucose and cholesterol levels, screened him for HIV, administered a flu shot, counseled him on nutrition, and referred him to a community dental clinic to have a filling repaired and teeth cleaned at minimal cost.

"There are resources out there. It's a matter of getting patients plugged in," said screening co-director Tivis, a biostatistician in ISU-Meridian's Institute of Rural Health.

Screening organizers have secured slots for follow-up visits at low-cost clinics throughout the Treasure Valley, including the dental, counseling, and speech and language clinics on the ISU-Meridian campus. Carr says 90 percent of participants leave a Community Health Screening with a referral for additional care, and 74 percent keep their appointments.

Since March 2010, more than 600 Ada County adults have participated in 19 screenings, and organizers are discussing plans to expand the program to neighboring Canyon County, said Tivis.

The screenings are garnering national attention too. In August 2012, Carr and ISU-Meridian academic dean, Bessie Katsilometes, traveled to the National Association of Local Boards of Health 20th Annual Conference in Atlanta, to present research highlights from the first two years of the program.

The research showed that of the 400 adults screened between March 2010 and April 2012, the majority were at high risk of diabetes, obesity and poor dental health because they didn't have access to preventive health care services. The report also highlighted the importance of providing preventive health education at the screenings.

FILLING THE NEED

Former Ada County Commissioner Sharon Ullman and Ross Mason, the southwest regional director for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, say the screenings are an example of what communities can achieve through cooperation and dedication in the face of limited resources.

Medical laboratory sciences graduate student Lily Struchen relishes the opportunity to interact with patients.

"It's a great way to give back to the community, gain work experience and work with the other health science disciplines," she said.