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Sharp Hopes To Give Free Health Screenings To 5,000 People

Evening Edition

Aired 6/13/13 on KPBS News.

From now until September, Sharp HealthCare is offering free health screenings at 60 locations.

— One of the keys to good health is knowing your numbers, as in blood pressure and cholesterol.

Many doctors and patients aren't discussing the health consequences of weight.
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Above: Many doctors and patients aren't discussing the health consequences of weight.

Sharp HealthCare has launched an effort to give 5,000 San Diegans their numbers through free health screenings. It’s the largest initiative of its kind in San Diego.

Sharp HealthCare employees look for people who’d like to have a free health screening in public places, like at Grossmont Shopping Center in La Mesa.

During the screenings, participants get the lowdown on five key health indicators, including cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure. Sharp doesn’t retain any of the information; it simply performs the mini check-ups, provides the results and offers a little health advice.

Sharp health educator Jodi McEdward explained the procedure to La Mesa resident Hannah Garrett.

“So you know that we’ll grab height, weight and also get a little finger stick for blood screening, McEdward said to Garrett.

She asked Garrett if she could easily slip off her sandals.

"If not, we can make do,” McEdward said

For the next 15 minutes, McEdward put Garrett through the paces: Part of the screening includes questions about tobacco use. Garrett admitted she smokes hookahs occasionally, and McEdward offered some feedback.

“So you probably heard that that definitely adds a lot of nicotine to the system and it affects the blood pressure, especially. One session on a hookah is equal to almost a pack of cigarettes. Kind of scary, huh?” McEdward asked and looked directly at Garrett.

After the brief interlude, McEdward gave Garrett her numbers – everything looked good.

Garrett said she was pleasantly surprised.

“I learned I’m healthy. I really didn’t know," she said with a smile. "I really didn’t expect my results would come out that great, but they did. So I’m happy.”

McEdward said she enjoys performing the screenings.

“What I like about doing this is the joy on people’s faces when they see how well they succeeded," the health educator said. "But it’s also to help them get through that sudden shock of, 'I need to deal with this.' It’s a very human relationship. It’s wellness, at the base level.”

The idea for doing free health screenings came from Sharp’s internal wellness program. This spring, Sharp offered the screenings to all of its employees.

Wellness Program Coordinator Megan Spurling said more than 10,000 workers stepped forward.

“What we wanted to do with our employee screening program was to give our employees the opportunity to better understand their overall health status," Spurling said. "And the community screening is reflective of that, because of the fact that we really wanted our community to have the same benefits as our employees are having internally.”

It’s good for people to know their numbers. It’s also important for the community as a whole to know how all of the numbers add up.

Only 11 percent of adults in San Diego County smoke, but some of the other numbers are troubling.

For example, 55 percent of county adults are either overweight or obese and 35 percent have high-blood pressure.

The annual price tag for dealing with both of those conditions nationwide is greater than $340 billion.

Sharp President and CEO Mike Murphy said offering free screenings in the community is one way Sharp can try to make a difference. He said he thinks giving people their numbers can prompt them to make healthy changes.

“I think there is more and more written, and more and more attention being paid to health and good health," Murphy said. "And I think the more, whether it’s Sharp putting this in front of them or others putting this in front of them, that the more and more people will engage, and need to be held accountable to their healthcare choices,” he added.

Murphy said Sharp’s effort is part of a trend.

“It’s very consistent, actually, with some of the great things that are going on at San Diego County," he said. "The County’s very focused on enhancing health for their entire community. So, this we saw as very consistent with what’s happening at the county, and kind of doing an additional part for us in being a great community citizen.”

Sharp will offer the free screenings at 60 locations from now until September.

Health educator Jodi McEdward said she hopes more people will take advantage of them.

“This is helping people to overcome small barriers and staying healthy every day – whether it’s diet, exercise, changing a particular behavior, having the courage to face it, and then getting feedback for doing such a good job,” McEdward said.

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