DOCS Plans Second Health Fair to Meet Demand in Little Haiti

For the first time in its sixteen-year history, the Miller School’s Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service program will hold a second “mini health fair” in Little Haiti to meet the sharply increasing demand for the free health screenings and health education offered by the student-run organization.

Although 350 people received services at Saturday’s DOCS Little Haiti Health Fair, another 150 had to be turned away, but they were issued vouchers they can redeem at the mini fair scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, November 13, at the same location, the Center for Haitian Studies, 8260 Northeast 2nd Avenue, in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood.

“The health fair was a great success,” said Rimsky Denis, M.P.H., a second-year medical student who is DOCS project manager for the Little Haiti fair. “We were able to provide services to so many people and we decided to return to help those we didn’t get a chance to see.

“Many of the residents in Little Haiti lack health insurance and the means to afford hospital visits. However, since the January 12 earthquake in Haiti, there has been an influx of immigrants to South Florida, particularly in the Little Haiti community, and the need for medical screenings and care has greatly increased.”

Long before the October 30 fair opened at 9 a.m., dozens of people stood in line outside the gates of the Center for Haitian Studies, an early indication that the health fair would reach capacity. As the morning wore on, scores more men, women and children arrived, packing the registration tent. By day’s end, the service level was impressive, and included 150 ophthalmology exams, 220 lipid panels, 71 male exams and 48 Pap smears.

Screenings for depression, various tests for children and breast exams were also conducted by the 169 Miller School students and 56 UM physicians and staff who volunteered at the fair. Representatives from undergraduate student organizations at UM and other universities, members of local churches, high schools and the Haitian-American Nurses Association also helped with Creole translations, logistics and other efforts.

“A lot of people are not working and can’t afford medical care,” said Netia Joseph, accompanying her 47-year-old mother, who arrived in South Florida from Haiti in August. “The students are very helpful and we’re getting the kind of screenings we need. This is a great opportunity, especially for my mother who really needs the medical attention.”

Marie Lourdes Clarke arrived early to secure a place in line for an eye exam. “I already had two screenings,” she remarked, as student Andrew Corrigan explained the steps of the exam. “It doesn’t matter that we have to wait because they are providing good service.”

Corrigan, a second-year Miller School student and DOCS member, carried out the screening expeditiously, but took time to converse with patients to make sure they understood the procedure. “It’s great training for us as future physicians,” Corrigan said. “We are here doing what we are training for and at the same time making a difference in people’s lives.”

Faculty mentors, including Mark O’Connell, M.D., senior associate dean for educational development, were available at every turn to assist and guide the medical students.

“This was the busiest health fair I have seen and there were more patients with serious problems than I can remember at any other health fair,” Dr. O’Connell said. “I believe the need for this primary health screening and education in underserved populations, like we find in Little Haiti, is greater than ever. Hopefully, health care reform will allow many of these patients to be cared for in an expanded community clinic network. But until those systems changes occur, we are going to consider increasing the number of our DOCS health fairs.”

The students, Denis says, are grateful for the hands-on experience and are eager to add another fair to this season’s remaining DOCS health fair schedule.

“We cannot underestimate the impact of DOCS and the annual health fairs,” said Denis, who was exhilarated by his conversation with one woman who had never had a Pap smear and couldn’t recall the last time she saw a doctor.

“She got her first Pap smear at the Little Haiti Health Fair, along with a breast exam, lipid panel, and an ophthalmology exam,” said Denis. “She was overjoyed. That moment alone reminded me why I chose a career in medicine, and why DOCS health fairs are so important.”

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