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Community Offers One Day of Free Physicals

School physicals and immunizations made free to those in need at South County Government Center.

Last Saturday, 137 children received free physicals and immunization updates at the South County School Physical Examination Clinic, held in the Health Department facility on the second story of the South County Government Center. The clinic, which has been held annually since 2002, is run entirely by volunteers from a variety of local organizations.

"What we do each year, is we stage a clinic for children whose parents don’t have insurance, basically the working poor," said Katy Fike, one of the main organizers for the event. The clinics sees to it that the children receive the checkups and immunizations they need to enter the school system, and it also serves to inform families about health care options for which they may be eligible. The number of children served was up from 117 last year. Each family had to schedule an appointment through the Health Department.

Without such a service, said Fike, families with no money to spare would have to pay out-of-pocket for physicals, which average about $126, and immunizations, which run between $20 and $40 apiece. Fike sits on the board of the Mount Vernon Lee Chamber of Commerce, which coordinated the event.

Bonnie Lilley, of the Mount Vernon Community Coalition, worked on the first school physical clinic in Fairfax County, which began seven years ago in Springfield. "When I retired, I said, ‘We needed one over here,’ " she said, noting that the Health Department facility and the bus stop out front make the South County Government Center an ideal location for the project. Another such annual clinic has been opened in the Annandale/Falls Church area.

About 100 volunteers staffed the event, said Fike. Among the organizations represented in the volunteer base were Inova Mount Vernon and other doctors offices in Alexandria and Mount Vernon, the Health Department, the Physician Assistant Association, based in Alexandria, the Mount Vernon Rotary Club and the Army at Fort Belvoir.

Touring the facility, Tom Cleary, a retired doctor and a member of the board for the Chamber of Commerce, who volunteered as an escort for the patients and their families, pointed out the rooms where hearing and vision checks were performed, where blood tests were administered and immunization records reviewed. "This was loaded with books, " he said, indicating a table of about 25 feet or so in one of the last rooms on the route. It was still strewn with the works of Beverly Cleary, R.L. Stine and others.

The books were donated by the Physicians Assistant Association, as were bike helmets, with which volunteers from the association were fitting each child who passed through. Each child also received a backpack, donated by Office Depot, which had been packed with school supplies by residents of Mount Vernon Sunrise Assisted Living.

"We signed up a lot of them for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, " Cleary said of the day’s patients. "A lot of these people would run to the emergency room."

Jill Christiansen of Inova’s Partnership for Healthier Kids explained that many of the children were eligible for a year’s worth of health care through Medicaid’s Families Access to Medical Insurance Security Program. Others, whose families were undocumented or made "a little more money," were eligible for Fairfax County’s Medical Care for Children Partnership, said Christiansen. "We’re teaching families about health care so that they don’t have to attend events like this," she said. "Instead, they can build a relationship with a primary care doctor."

Final checkouts were performed by nurses from the Health Department. Fike noted that their position allowed the checkout nurses to write referrals for children to receive specialized care if they felt it was warranted.

As he and other volunteers dug into a lunch donated by various local businesses, Sgt. Mark Shannon, one of about 10 volunteers from Fort Belvoir, remarked, "We’re part of the community, too. Communities do so much for soldiers. We’ve got to give something back. That’s why I’m here."

"It’ll teach the soldiers not to take things for granted in life and to appreciate what they have," said Sgt. Carlos Martinez, who volunteered as a Spanish interpreter at the clinic.

"I enjoy it, because everybody needs help," said Cecilia Vara, who volunteered through Inova Fairfax, adding that she planned to volunteer again at the next clinic. "I hope I can do more for the patients next year," she said.

Laura Derby volunteered at the clinic as a member of the Mount Vernon Rotary Club, which had donated the vaccines for immunizations. "There are so many different facets of the community involved in this today," she said. "Undoubtedly, families in the community need this." She noted that stemming health problems would contribute to the safety of the area as a whole.