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by Jessica Carreras
Project Healthy Living is only offering 16 sites where people can receive free or low-cost health care and screenings this spring – and Affirmations Community Center isn’t one of them.
In 2007, 69 Project Healthy Living sites served almost 10,000 Michigan residents over the months of April and May. This year, due to a 75 percent cut in funding, they have dropped that number to under 20. The Project, which is celebrating its 40th year, offers services such as blood cultures, height and weight measurements and glucose screenings.
Down at Affirmations, Health and Human Services Coordinator Knoll Larkin is worried. On April 26, Affirmations will hold their sixth annual health fair. This year will mark the first that Project Healthy Living is providing no funding, publicity, health professionals or supplies to the event.
Still, Larkin is hopeful that the event will go off without a hitch, and expects that most who attend won’t notice a difference in available services and information. “We’ve had a lot of response for the problem,” he said. “But we still need a lot more.”
This includes supplies such as blood pressure cuffs, stethoscopes, alcohol wipes, disposable gloves and simple things, such as tissues and paper towels. Larkin is also hoping for food donations for volunteers and visitors, as well as the addition of medical and non-medical volunteers. Specifically, he said, they need a dermatologist and an audiologist for skin cancer and hearing screenings.
Still, the loss of funding for Project Healthy Living is creating a tangible gap in provisions for Michiganders without health care, which are growing in number due to the faltering state economy. The loss happened quickly and was a shock both to the organization and the health fairs it holds. “All of this happened about a month ago,” said PHL Director Ifetayo Johnson. “We’re down to the wire and we’re still trying to buy supplies. We just didn’t have enough people and time and everything to make it all happen.”
Johnson explained that two of their major sponsors were forced to pull out, both due to a lack of funds within their companies. One was having a bad year financially, while the other lost expected state funding, which trickled down to mean that Project Healthy Living was cut from their budget.
Of the 16 sites that will stay open, however, Johnson notes that they will be bigger, open longer and will have more services available to accommodate as many people as possible.
Affirmations, however, is the only site that has been consistently LGBT focused. “It is really disappointing,” Larkin said of the lost sites, “because one of the most effective components of the project is that it brings life-saving health screenings and tests right to the people in community settings where they feel most comfortable.”
For the LGBT community, this meant a place where they could come without fear or embarrassment to address issues relevant to them, such as HIV testing and education, substance abuse, mental health and smoking. “We have a big focus on certain issues where there are disparities where LGBT people are more likely to be affected,” Larkin said.
At Affirmations’ health fair, educators and health officials will be on hand to discuss those issues. There will also be HIV testing, quit kits, depression screenings and links to substance abuse help providers.
As for Project Healthy Living’s sites, Johnson is adamant that the LGBT community will find plenty of valuable health information and care at the remaining sites. She recommends that they go to the Southfield Civic Center, which will be the organization’s largest event this year – and also the site of their 40th birthday party. “We just decided that this was not the year to go under,” Johnson said. “At one point, we thought we were going to have to shut everything down. It’s a miracle that we didn’t.”
However, she’s hoping for a bigger miracle next year: New sponsors and the return of previous sites, including Affirmations. “We’re hopeful that we’ll be able to expand next year and get Affirmations back,” she said. “I just love that site.”
Just as Project Healthy Living is expecting to have many LGBT attendees at their limited sites, Larkin adds that almost half of Affirmations’ health care visitors are straight. “A lot of non-LGBT people come because they know it’s a local community site,” he said. “Times are hard and a lot of people are uninsured.”
Times are certainly hard for Johnson and Project Healthy Living, and for Larkin and Affirmations. Larkin hopes that everyone in the community will come together to help out and make sure the health fair is still a success.