Korean-Americans flock to free health fair

Miniclinics set up to offer screenings and information

May 02, 2007|By Adrienne Morris | Adrienne Morris,sun reporter

Dr. Young Joo Lee was not surprised that many Koreans living in Howard County were interested in attending the county's first Korean-American Health Fair.

"Most are legal residents but own small businesses so they tend not to have insurance," said Lee, who works with Chesapeake Oncology-Hematology Associates. "They're so busy working that they don't keep up on health maintenance and prevention, like taking blood pressure, and they usually don't go to a doctor unless they're sick."

The event, co-sponsored by the Ellicott City Horizon Council, Howard County Health Department, the Korean American Community Association of Howard County and Howard County General Hospital, attracted about 300 people Sunday to Centennial High School.

Free health fairs "are reactions to diverse ethnic groups in the community [and a way] to introduce people to [health] resources and make them available," said Cindi Miller, director of community health education for Howard County General Hospital.

Two other health fairs co-sponsored by the hospital and other organizations were held in March, centered on the Latino and Muslim communities. Another is scheduled July 15 at Merriweather Post Pavilion as part of Columbia's 40th birthday celebration.

Kay Shin, a Korean immigrant who has lived in the United States for five years, said Sunday's fair was "a good choice" for her "because it's very expensive to visit the doctor."

"My mother-in-law needed everything done," she said about the free tests. "We don't have insurance because of our low income."

Margaret Kim, executive vice president of the Korean American Community Association of Howard County, acknowledged that "a large percent of Koreans [in Howard County] don't have insurance." But she added that "even if they have health insurance, because we don't know who does and who doesn't, [the clinic is] still a good way to do minichecks between doctor appointments."

Asians are also more at risk for diabetes, said Madeleine Green, who educates people about the disease through the Howard County Diabetes Coalition and Maryland Cooperative Extension.

"We know that Asians have a high predisposition for diabetes," she said. "When they come to America and adopt our lifestyle, they increase their calories and move less. We are trying to put off the onset of the disease. Instead of happening at 40, it could happen at 65. Diabetes is directly related to what we put in our mouths and how active we aren't."

Greene used models of fruit and vegetables to show which foods are the healthiest. She stressed the importance of counting total calories, carbohydrates and grams of fiber in foods.

Other tests and screenings included those for blood pressure and hearing, as well as dental screenings, glucose and cholesterol screenings and bone-density screenings. Guests also received information from organizations about various diseases and ailments.

A lot of women were interested in the bone-density screening.

"There is a high rate of osteoporosis in Asian women because they are petite, and that increases the risk," Lee said.

"We're keeping a finger on the pulse of the county's demographics," said Paul Gleichauf, senior vice president of managed care planning and marketing at Howard County General Hospital. "It's no secret that the foreign-born population has grown significantly, and health care is a major challenge to them."

Gleichauf said the fair's use of translators was especially helpful to people because "language barriers are not an insignificant challenge."

Kenny Ye, associate pastor of the Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church, one of the largest Korean churches in the Baltimore area, said many Korean-Americans settle in Howard County because of the highly rated school system.

"It's a priority for them, and they try to move to the good school districts, even if it's more expensive," he said.

Seung Yi attended the fair with his wife and sons. He said that his family has health coverage through his job but that his wife wanted to visit the fair because she could not speak English.

"We met when I was stationed in Korea with the Army and have been married for eight years," he said. "She told me about this event, and I'm a good Korean husband so I came along."

Mary Patton, director of public relations for the Howard County General Hospital, said the hospital would continue to provide free health fairs as a way to "improve access to [health] care for some of the immigrant communities and to provide information in a language other than English."

She added: "We've been so successful in the past, and it's a good way to help improve altruistic care in the county. It's a great benefit to people without insurance."

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