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Backus Checkup: AOK with HHC program brings health screenings to the community

Hartford HealthCare’s Community Health Office recently launched a new program called AOK with HHC in collaboration with the Covenant Soup Kitchen in Willimantic.

The program began last fall in Norwich at the St. Vincent de Paul meal center, and AOK is held monthly at the meal center. It provides various health screenings to residents.

This community health outreach program is designed to bring important health screenings to potentially at-risk individuals who may not have access to regular health care.

Run by East Region Community Health nurse Michele Brezniak, it is designed to provide anyone who wants it a free A1C screening or blood pressure check. It also offers a basic health risk assessment by asking a series of questions. Additionally, Brezniak provides education based on the assessment results, including how they can access a primary care provider or follow up care, regardless of their insurance or immigration status.

At a recent clinic in Norwich, Brezniak provided 16 individuals with diabetes and blood pressure screenings, free of charge.

Of the 16, seven had elevated blood pressure levels, and four showed higher than normal A1C levels. A1C is a blood test that is used to diagnose diabetes or prediabetes. Many of them did not realize they had a potential health issue.

The program has educational pamphlets in Creole, Mandarin, English and Spanish. Brezniak works with Hartford HealthCare’s Colleague Resource Groups to provide accurate information in multiple languages, as well as understand cultural sensitivities and protocols.

Brezniak also works with United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, Three Rivers Community College, University of Connecticut and the Health Education Center in Norwich, an organization that recruits and trains health professionals from diverse backgrounds to serve marginalized communities in Connecticut. HEC, UConn and Three Rivers are providing students to assist Brezniak at the clinics.

“Having the students to work with makes a huge difference, and it gives them clinical hours they need,” she said. “Today, one of the students was fluent in Spanish, so that was an added benefit.”

Prior to starting in Norwich, the program had two trial runs, at Jennings School in New London and Wequonnoc School in Taftville, both in conjunction with United Way mobile food pantries.

Moving forward, Brezniak would like to be able to provide these “pop up” type screenings at mobile food pantry sites, as a way to reach even more people.

Giving 16 people important information about their health and working with them to make sure they receive follow up care made it a “great day,” Brezniak said. “The people were grateful to have the opportunity to be screened, and it was great to connect with them.”

Joseph Zuzek is Director of Community Health for Hartford HealthCare.

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