Public Health, Institute bringing wellness to area communities through traveling program

Published 6:13 pm Tuesday, June 25, 2024

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A joint effort between The Hormel Institute and Mower County Public Health is looking to bring health to the people through a wellness campaign called Wellness on Wheels (WOW).

Announced last week, WOW will share health information and resources, as well as offer free health screenings and kits for those taking part in the visits.

This free event, open to the public, made its first stop in Grand Meadow Tuesday afternoon and looks to make a follow-up stop in Adams on July 23.

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“It’s kind of been something that we’ve always talked about,” said Chris Weis, community health specialist whose position is supported by a Statewide Health Improvement Partnership (SHIP) grant through the Minnesota Department of Health. “We’ve just been trying to get the right people at the table. It’s been a process ever since I’ve been at the county for us to get this and for us to be able to access for the people out and about.”

Weis said there have been talks about a program like WOW since 2017. Just a couple years ago they found those right partners in the Institute. As part of its strategic plan, the educational component of WOW, through its myriad of screenings and information that will be offered, fits into the Institute’s objectives.

“I think education encompasses learning about these preventive screenings and those needs,” said Institute Community Outreach and Education Manager Kelly Vincelette. “We want to establish a wellness and survivorship program.”

Through past similar events, those working with both sides started talking about ways they could co-op.

“It’s everyone just coming together,” Vincelette said. “Let’s see what we can do.”

WOW is in part supported through a pair of grants from the Austin Area Foundation and Mower Freeborn Cooperative. By taking these steps on the road, both sides of the conversation see it filling a need of convenience for people who may have difficulties getting these services.

“It’s that whole public health approach,” Weis said, pointing out that for many either there are no services like this nearby or they simply can’t reach them. “We would rather come to where the people are and be able to offer these services.”

It works into preventive care approaches both Mower County Public Health and the Institute have been angling for in recent years.

The Institute has purchased screening machines they will use at each stop for screenings including:

• A1C (blood sugar levels)

• Blood pressure

• Cholesterol

• Anemia

Information will also be available in such areas that include:

• Mental health resources

• Carbon monoxide poisoning

• Emergency preparedness

• Water/air quality

• Extreme temperatures

• Lyme disease

•Healthy eating resources

• HIV test kits and preventive information

• Radon test kits.

However, while these resources will be available, both Vincelette and Clinical Research and Outreach Lead Emily Heath noted that screening information will only be provided to people to use when seeing their doctors.

While WOW has been waived through CLIA, which allows non-medical organizations to conduct the screenings, they still can’t provide diagnosis through WOW, nor will any of the information be gathered for research by the Institute.

The information is intended to be used in consultation with doctors.

“This is what blood pressure is and then we take their blood pressure and write it on a sheet,” Heath said. “It’s the information for what it is and they should do with the results.”

At the same time, Heath said that there is hope for future expansion of offerings using background information gathered through Institute research.

“We want, in the future, a lot of these screenings,” Heath said. “We want to add. We’re starting off simple with things people want to know and a way to get people in and get them to know what we do. We hope to add in more actual cancer screenings.”

While Tuesday was just the first step for WOW, there is a desire by both parties to continue this going into the future with a hope of expansion, including bringing on more to help with WOW.

“Right now, we are offering resources for other places,” Weis said. “We are wanting to bring in more partners. The more the merrier. The more we can get out there the more that can be assessed.”