Refugees in Whitehall's Prospect Park treated to community health screening

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Gahana Dhapa fled Bhutan in South Asia about five years ago to start a new life in the United States -- one that promised safety, new opportunities and good health.

She became a refugee in Pittsburgh and, like many others, found a home in Prospect Park in Whitehall. But before Tuesday, Ms. Dhapa, now 27, never had any health screening or education.

Many refugees lack routine health screenings because they cannot get to a hospital or do not have transportation.

St. Clair Hospital staff decided to bring the health screenings to them through a health fair. The hospital partnered with the South Hills Interfaith Ministries to provide the Prospect Park refugee community free health screenings and education.

Catholic Charities began resettling refugees in the Prospect Park complex about 20 years ago because of the available apartments that were safe and affordable, said Courtney Macurak, Prospect Park Family Center site director.

Since then, more resettlement agencies such as Jewish Family & Children's Service have resettled the refugee population to Prospect Park and the population in the South Hills continues to grow.

For Jim Guffey, executive director of SHIM, the health fair was a "win, win, win" situation -- for SHIM, St. Clair Hospital and the refugees.

"The needs here with the refugee population are numerous and every growing," said Mr. Guffey, who worked with St. Clair in advance to get two interpreters for the health fair since the refugee community includes people from more than 30 countries who speak more than 25 different languages and dialects.

Many of the refugees were excited to see a brochure that had been translated into their native language, said St. Clair Hospital nurse manager Rosemary Miller.

"We were trying to focus on a community that is unable to get information due to transportation issues or another barrier like language," Ms. Miller said.

In addition to the cancer education and screening information, the community received free screenings for blood pressure, bone density, carbon monoxide/oxygen and cholesterol and information about diabetes and nutrition.

Ganga Dangal, a refugee from Nepal who came to Pittsburgh in 2011, received his first cholesterol screening last year. While he wanted to get his cholesterol checked again, he also wanted to find out more information and a receive a free bone density screening.

"These are the important things to check and if they find anything, I can go further to check up," Mr. Dangal, 32, said.

Mr. Dangal received the results of the bone density screening immediately, but he will not be mailed the results of the glucose and cholesterol screening for a couple weeks.

St. Clair Hospital staff will mail letters with the lab results and if necessary, the refugee can get more health care or receive medication through a doctor, said Heather Jones, a phlebotomist at St. Clair Hospital who was taking blood Tuesday.

However, because the letters will be in English, the refugees can take them to centers such as SHIM to be translated, said Rich Sieber, director of marketing and development at St. Clair Hospital.

Cheryl Waszyn of St. Clair Hospital's lab services volunteered to help at the health fair but was not anticipating the language barrier.

"I am glad we are reaching out to the community and I did not know this whole area was here, and it is good to give services to this community," Ms. Waszyn said. "When you've never had it done before, you feel like you are helping that person. That is really important to me."

Ms. Dhapa said she hopes there will be more health care screenings in the future.

"It is a nice charity and way to know about health for free," she said. "I am glad to get opportunity to get checked for free. I hope to have them here again."


Claire Aronson:, 412-263-1964 or on Twitter @Claire_Aronson.


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