Gema Mosso was surrounded by children and balloons. Her stroller teetered under the weight of bags stuffed with health information and her two children wore colorful Mardi Gras beads handed out by a local HIV/AIDS prevention organization.
Mosso, a Mexican immigrant, was at the Hamilton Grange branch of the New York Public Library for a recent Latino health fair and had taken advantage of its offerings: She’d had her eyes tested and her son Edward’s feet checked. Soon, she’ll follow up with a doctor about Edward’s slightly crooked gait.
Uninsured but concerned about her children’s health, Mosso is exactly the person that community health fairs want to reach. A regular library visitor, she had heard about the fair – sponsored by the Harlem Dowling West Side Center for Child and Family Services – and had recruited two cousins and their three children to come along.
“I’m interested in anything regarding my kids and my kids’ well-being,” she said through an interpreter.
Demand for community health fairs – to test for everything from high blood pressure to breast cancer — is on the rise in Harlem, neighborhood organizations say, since the economic downturn took hold.
Naomi Griffin, director of community outreach at Harlem Hospital, said the hospital’s mobile outreach vans see about 2,500 people each year, sometimes visiting up to six sites on a weekend. The season for outreach work, formerly May to September, now runs April to October.
“It’s an indicator that there is a need,” Griffin said. “We want to go out and assist the community to become more health care aware and know their status.”
Local non-profit groups have run such fairs, which also provide information about health, nutrition and low-cost health insurance, for years.
But despite city welfare officials’ recent City Council testimony that New York appears to be recovering from the recession at a stronger pace than the rest of the country, Lavater Harvin of West Harlem’s Ephesus Seventh Day Adventist Church said the economic downturn continued to have an impact.
Ephesus held its annual health fair last month when, despite a steady rain, around 40 people registered for free blood pressure and diabetes tests. A mobile mammogram van was stationed at the church’s Lenox Avenue entrance, along with stalls offering nutritional advice, vegetarian cooking tips and podiatry check-ups. A group of about 20 joined in an aerobics class exercising to a rousing gospel soundtrack.
“We have a lot of people here that don’t have insurance, a lot of people that are out of jobs,” Harvin said. “Living in this neighborhood you see a lot of people in need.”
But Harlem Hospital’s Griffin acknowledged the outreach services can reach only those who want help and that follow-up appointments are left to patients themselves.
For this reason, Central Harlem Health Revival, a church-based coalition, hopes to track some who attended its annual health day last month. Revival coordinator Joanne Thigpen said that despite such efforts by community organizations, Harlem residents continue to have higher rates of obesity, stroke and heart disease than the city average, statistics show.
“Are we getting the right people in and are they getting the services they need?” Thigpen asked. “Let’s see how we can take them so they can actually get into the services. This is an underserved community.”
Halloween Health Fair
Friday, Oct. 29, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Helen B. Atkinson Center, 85 W. 115th St.