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MLK Semester of Service Award-winning Project: Gandara Wellness Fair

July 13, 2021

New physician assistant graduate, Neha Rana, winner of Baystate Health's 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service Award, and eleven other physician assistant students at Bay Path University hosted a Wellness Fair at Stearns Square in Springfield on Saturday June 26, in partnership with Gandara Health.

The focus was on mental health, substance abuse disorders, and chronic health conditions—pressing health concerns for residents of Hampden County identified in the latest Baystate Medical Center Community Health Needs Assessment.

The Wellness Fair provided culturally sensitive information, in both Spanish and English, that may have been unavailable to the community as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the accessibility of care.

Approximately 50 community members participated in the fair—all stating that they found it beneficial and that they would attend again next year.

Feedback emphasized how inviting the Wellness Fair and students were and that participants appreciated having this service available to them in their community.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Struggles Worsened by Pandemic

Many participants said that they experience both anxiety and depression daily.

The problem of lack of awareness about mental well-being was highlighted when participants expressed relief to learn that they were not the only ones struggling with mental illness during the pandemic. They appreciated learning about the National Suicide hotline/text-message line and other resources as well as receiving stress relief tools, such as fidget toys.

Several participants went directly to the Substance Use Disorder station, seeking help for a condition they say they have been battling for many years. Noting that their substance use has a negative impact on their mental well-being, they expressed a desire to "get back on their feet."

Information about Naloxone, support groups, crisis center access,. and a variety of treatment options, including Medication Assisted Treatment, was available.

Chronic Health Conditions Affecting Many in the Community

Many Wellness Fair attendees said chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease, affect many of their loved ones and noted the lack of support within the community to manage these conditions.

The PA students provided blood pressure screenings and point of care blood glucose readings, as well as daily logs for participants to track their home readings, and handouts on how to manage both blood sugar and high blood pressure.

There was also a Health Maintenance station where students distributed information on senior care options and step-wise instructions to apply for Mass Health.

The Healthy and Affordable Food station was staffed by UMass medical students in Baystate's PURCH track—who were the other winners of the 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service Award.

About Baystate Health's Martin Luther King Jr. Semester of Service Award

The award is open to all students enrolled in a health professions school or certification program who matriculate at a Baystate Health site for their education.

Projects must address a priority health need, as identified in Baystate Health’s community health needs assessment, social determinant(s) of health, as defined by the MA Department of Public Health, or a health disparity or inequity.

Awardees are selected by a panel comprising members of UMMS-Baystate Community Faculty, Baystate Community Benefits Advisory Council, and Baystate Business Resource Groups. Funding for these awards is provided by the Office of Government and Community Relations, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and by UMass Medical School-Baystate.