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Helping Hands: Increasing Healthcare Accessibility in Burke County

By Ashlyn Minton, MS, RDN, LDN

Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the 4-day free health clinic that Campbell University hosted here in Burke County. The clinic rotated between 4 sites: Grace Episcopal Church, St. Charles Catholic Church, East Burke Senior Center, and New Day Christian Church. These particular sites were selected because of their location within the County and the populations they predominantly serve. The purpose of the clinic was to provide free health screenings to historically marginalized populations and to connect them with a Primary Care Provider if they did not have one. Many of the patients were without health insurance and/or did not have a primary care doctor. Clinics like these are extremely important, especially in rural areas like Burke County, to reach these populations and provide vital health screenings.

My role at the clinic was to speak with people as they finished their screenings and provide nutrition information and/or counseling as needed. I was able to speak with patients of all backgrounds- Hispanic, African American, homeless, and more. I talked with them about their cholesterol, blood pressure, and A1C levels, and how they can use their diet to improve those numbers.

The site with the largest turnout by far was St. Charles Catholic Church. At this clinic, I had the opportunity to speak with a primarily Hispanic population. I saw dozens of patients come through that needed help lowering their cholesterol levels. I advised them to cut down on fried foods, full-fat dairy, and red meats, and to increase their intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. I also sent them home with educational materials they could read through at their own pace, as people often forget what was discussed verbally.

At East Burke Senior Center, I spoke with several older adults that came through. Their most common concern was diabetes and/or high blood pressure. I loved introducing them to the diabetes MyPlate and giving them copies of our Diabetic Cookbook. They were very receptive to the printed materials, and I was happy that I almost ran out by the end of the day.

Overall, the most rewarding part of this experience was seeing patients visibly relieved upon receiving clear direction regarding their diets. Though I’ve only been a Registered Dietitian for two years, by far the biggest concern I speak with people about is confusion on who and what to believe. There are so many untrustworthy sources of information out there, and I am so glad I can be a reliable source.

If we want to get people more proactive about their health, getting them connected to a PCP is crucial, but in order for that to happen, healthcare must be made affordable. I don’t believe there is a simple solution to this, but Medicaid expansion, increasing the amount of fresh fruit and vegetable vouchers, and educating people on how to prepare healthy meals are certainly a start.

Additionally, I loved getting to know the population of Burke County even better. This clinic showed me common nutritional concerns among certain populations, and I feel that I can better address these concerns as I now have additional knowledge of them. This is definitely not a “one size fits all” solution. I also expanded my knowledge on the Social Determinants of Health and the impact they have on our well-being. When one or more of them go unaddressed the entire person suffers. Public health nutrition is an area I am very passionate about and hope to continue gaining knowledge and working in for years to come.

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