Gathering Resources, Making Connections

After my experiences at the ADA Diabetes Expo and with my friends at the JDRF walk, and a long phone conversation with Manny, I Googled “health fair New Jersey” to see if there were any upcoming fairs near me. Right now I’m looking to make connections, see who’s out there, and network. Eventually I’d like to know there is support in our local community… or even more seriously, the next town over where there are a lot of low-income people and people of color. If I can be an agent of that support, so much the better.

This morning I got up at what has lately been “an ungodly hour of the morning”, courtesy of The Other Half working nights, and trekked over to the Health Fair two towns over from me in Scotch Plains. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of either exhibitors or participants, other than that I expected it to be relatively small and sparsely-attended. In this, my expectations were correct. I had not expected nearly as many exhibitors in the home-health-care arena – though I should not have been surprised, as the community is mostly middle-class to relatively-affluent, the sort of people who generally depend on their mobility and their insurance coverage for their medical care until some time after they retire, when they realize their savings and pensions won’t go as far as they had originally been led to believe.

As I made my way around the exhibitor tables, examining literature and asking questions, I found people interested in our online communities from areas I would not have expected – one of the local mental health resources, for example. My eye was drawn to a page on “co-existing conditions”, which focused on alcohol and drug abuse. I was somewhat surprised, since my understanding of co-existing (or “comorbid”, in doctor-and-researcher-speak) conditions were things such as depression and diabetes, depression and eating disorders, and diabetes and eating disorders… The exhibitor’s understanding gave us a lead into talking about online communities, which also gave me a chance to give her some TuDiabetes and EsTuDiabetes cards. She was very excited to find a Spanish-language support group, as there are many people in that county whose primary language is Spanish.

One of the resources I found is a “Fitness and Wellness Center” several towns over from Scotch Plains. This particular center sounds like it is the way health, fitness, and gyms need to go – the wave of the future. The chain is associated with local hospitals in all its locations, connecting with health professionals specializing in a number of chronic illnesses and complaints. In addition to their gyms (with free personal trainers) and gym classes, they have seminars on health, nutrition, healthy cooking, and disease management (for a number of specific conditions – diabetes among them). When I asked about the trainers’ education about dealing with chronic diseases, the exhibitor confidently stated that their trainers had four-year degrees in exercise physiology and were familiar with the issues – and had access to the medical professionals at the hospitals as well. This gym has a conference room – a possible place to have support group meetings – and a “healthy-eating restaurant” right next door.

More resources come from the hospital with which the Fitness Center is associated. They, like several other hospitals in the state, have monthly diabetes support groups (most of which I find out about too late to try to attend – but that’s another story). The nurses doing blood glucose screening said the support group members would be very interested in learning about the online communities (score!). The hospital also has a Speakers Bureau – which can be a great resource for a local group looking to provide a program along with a support meeting.

An exhibitor for one of the home-healthcare groups pushed the group’s information into my hand saying, “you may not need this, but you might know someone who does”. I tend to forget the indirect word-of-mouth (“my neighbor’s son-in-law’s co-worker has diabetes and…”) – even though that is an excellent method of “getting the word out”. I responded in kind – and come to think of it, I would not be surprised to find many home-healthcare professionals to be caring for people with diabetes (among other health issues)… and I’m sure shut-ins could use the companionship that communities like ours can bring.

All in all, I spent an hour at the health fair, made a lot of connections, and found a number of resources. A great morning, and well worth the early rising!

If you’re interested in outreach, you may want to see if there’s an upcoming health fair near you.