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Women 4 Wellness health fair improves, saves lives

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PABLO – Diana Cote looked out at the women and a few men exploring the booths of almost 100 vendors on Thursday during the 11th annual Women for Wellness health fair held at the Salish Kootenai College gym.

“It’s good when women get together,” she said. “It’s really good to see all these women here today.”  

She said there was a lot to learn at the fair; for example, she took a mental health screening test and scored well. “It makes you feel better to find out things like that,” she said. “Learning about health and finding out about resources is really useful because it empowers women to help themselves.”

During the event, participants could get a full-body skin cancer check, bone density test, blood pressure test, vision screening, dental screening, balance test and many other health-based tests. Vendors were also set up to give women information about politics, art, community and more. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal council, CSKT Tribal Health and the Salish and Kootenai College help support the project. 

Event co-organizer Kellie Caldbeck said the health fair was originally funded by a grant, but now, medical and community sponsors and donations sustain the project, including Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Community Medical Center, Kalispell Regional Medical Center, CSKT Tribal Health and St. Luke Community Healthcare. 

“The medical sponsors provide the screenings at no charge to the participants,” Caldbeck said. “We couldn’t do this without them.” 

The event has become a way for many people to get yearly health screenings even if they have health insurance due to the high cost of insurance and co-pays. For those without insurance, the event provides a chance to get health screening and find resources to meet healthcare needs.

Niki Graham, another event organizer, welcomed everyone during the opening ceremony and said participants might find out some health news they weren’t expecting but they could also find support at the fair. 

She said several organizations were working together again this year to provide mental health screenings, including St. Luke, Sunburst Mental Health and CSKT Tribal Health. “We have a big need for mental health services on the reservation,” she said. “A few years ago, people said it was something that they needed, so we decided to help connect people with those resources at the fair.”

CSKT Tribal Health and St. Luke also teamed up to work on a hepatitis C education and awareness project, which is new this year. They had a booth at the fair with details about the ongoing project. Brandy Couture, Allied Health Services division director, said hepatitis C is an issue in this area.

“There is a significant population with a need for treatment,” she said adding that both participating healthcare teams were able to do labs and establish treatment. Dr. Tyler Thorson with St. Luke said people can have hepatitis C without having any symptoms, so it is important to get tested. 

Safe Harbor of Lake County collected 60 plus large baskets filled with things like shampoo and other supplies to help the organization provide shelter, safety and advocacy for survivors of domestic violence. Businesses and individuals in the community donated the supplies. 

In 2018, Safe Harbor served 680 women and about 500 children. DeeAnn Richardson, executive director, said the basket project was a success this year with some businesses and groups wanting to help fill 10 baskets each. She added that the new thrift shop, Sister Sallie’s Thrift, in Ronan was doing well but could use more volunteers. “People don’t need to volunteer a lot of time, just a couple hours would really help,” she said.

At another station, a large sign of Jermain Charlo, who has been missing since last year, was set up along with the words “#someone knows” to encourage anyone with information about her to contact law enforcement or CSKT. 

Jami Pluff is coordinating a new group created by CSKT to address the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, also called missing and murdered indigenous people to include men, with resources like education and safety along with fundraisers for families impacted by the problem.

“Anyone can join our group,” Pluff said. She added that they are also working on developing a tip line for people to call if they have information about a missing person. To get involved, call 406-249-7921 or 406-544-1735.

Ellie Bundy-McLeod was also at the booth. She was recently appointed to a task force by Attorney General Tim Fox to help work on the issue of MMIW. She is also working with the new local group to help develop safety programs. She said part of the work involves teaching young people about self-defense and awareness. 

On the other side of the room, event participants considered the community’s needs. Jennifer Savage with the Headwaters Foundation said the goal is to find out what the biggest need is and utilize grant funding to make it happen. The notes people wrote included a need for healthy food in the area, after school programs, a teen center and drug prevention. 

Last year, the health fair brought in 1,300 participants and this year was just as busy. Polson High School students helped out at the fair while also participating. Bella Smith, 10th grade, said she the event was “way bigger” than she expected. “There are so many things here,” she said. “I’ve seen vain exams, bone testing, cardiac testing, so many things.” Kyra Spencer, 10th grade, said the trick to visiting as many vendors as possible was to decide what health screens and getting to those first.

Mother and daughter participants Marsha Frey and Collen Frey have made it a tradition to attend the event together every year. They said the fair is a great place to see friends and make connections.

Caldbeck said event organizers start planning the fair months before it happens. They also look at all the data to see how many people attended and what how the health fair helped people. She said many women have reported that they discovered a health issue that needed to be treated, and in some cases, early detection helped save their lives.

“Women have said that the health fair makes an impact on their lives, so they come back every year, which is why we plan to continue with it for the health of women in our area.” 

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