Blood pressure checks

Prior to the pandemic, an attendee at the Frederick Community Health Fair gets her blood pressure checked.

With the help of grant funding, six Frederick County nonprofits are partnering to advance health equity across minority and underserved populations.

The Asian American Center of Frederick County (AACF) is one of 42 partnerships/coalitions across the country awarded a grant from the National Association of County and City Health Officials and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, according to a news release. The goal of the $2 million funding — spread across the grant recipients — is to evaluate the social conditions that affect people’s health and ability to access health care and hopefully find strategies to improve the situation.

In Frederick County, $50,000 will be used to examine data from three previous Frederick Community Health Fairs, report on their impact and identify ways to improve health connections to the community, according to Dr. Rachel Mandel. The focus will be on diabetes and hypertension.

RTI International will evaluate data from health fairs in 2019, 2018 and 2017, according to Mandel. Its work will include reviewing clinical work done on referral from the fairs. AACF is partnering with the Frederick County Health Department, Frederick Health Hospital, the United Way, Mission of Mercy and Frederick Community Action Agency to make this happen.

Mandel has served as a private practitioner and previously worked as vice president of medical affairs at Frederick Health Hospital. Having a longstanding relationship with AACF, she helped apply for the grant.

“We knew that we had done something very good but that we could do better,” she said of the health fairs.

For the past 13 years, the health fair has offered services such as screenings for diabetes, blood pressure, hepatitis and more, plus flu vaccines and access to medical professionals.

“Typically, the people who come [to the health fair] don’t have insurance, don’t have access to health care. I mean, just that in of itself is a disparity,” Mandel said.

On average, about one-third of the fair’s attendees are Hispanic, Mandel said, while census data shows Hispanic or Latino people represent about 10.5 percent of the county’s population. Mandel said that figure speaks to a health disparity among the Hispanic community.

In 2019, 70 percent of the 80 attendees who identified as Hispanic had elevated blood pressure, Mandel said.

In the more rural parts of Frederick County, transportation can be a barrier to accessing health care, Mandel acknowledged. She said some people in the northern part of the county may find it easier to travel to Pennsylvania than the city of Frederick.

Linda Ryan, executive director of Mission of Mercy, is excited about the ways this grant could help the health fair partners assist more people. Mission of Mercy is a nonprofit that provides health care, dental care and prescription medication to those in need, among other services.

“Frederick really is a very collaborative community,” Ryan said. “This project is another way to inform patients and work collaboratively.”

Some barriers she’s noticed are access to fresh produce or the ability to afford gym memberships.

Heather Kirby, chief population officer for Frederick Health Hospital sees the partnership as a “great opportunity” to examine the effectiveness of the resources they’re providing. Obstacles like a lack of health literacy or language barriers can keep people from getting the care they need, and Kirby wants to address that.

Mandel hopes they will have a report from RTI by July. It has not yet been decided what the next health fair will look like during the pandemic. Two smaller health fairs were held in 2020.

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