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  June 18, 2004

Doctors make house calls in barn

By Bevin Milavsky
The Daily Item
Susquehanna Health System in Williamsport has strived during the past six years to make health care more accessible to the Amish and Mennonite community.

As part of this mission, representatives from the health system conducted health screenings Thursday at the produce auction barn along Routes 11-15 in Port Trevorton.

Tables were set up amid crates of tomatoes and watermelons, and families lined up to receive a variety of free and reduced-cost services. A trailer was parked behind the barn for laboratory work.

A local family with six children, ranging in age from infancy to 9, received tetanus shots, dental exams and other services.

Their father, who preferred not to be identified, said it was very convenient to be able to bring the entire family for health care on the same day, rather than scheduling appointments at a family practice center.

This was the first time he had heard of the screenings being held, and he was grateful for the fact that they were offered for free.

Jim Huebert, manager of social services for Susquehanna Health System, said the annual clinic has grown in popularity over the years, so officials have tried to expand to new areas.

In the past, the clinics were held on a family’s farm, usually in counties to the west. But Huebert said some Mennonite and Amish people from the Port Trevorton area came to Susquehanna Health System for health care and expressed interest in having a clinic closer to home.

One local Mennonite woman, who also wished to remain anonymous, helped Huebert spread the word about the clinic.

"I just told everybody I saw in church," she said.

She had been to a health screening another time in Lewisburg and encouraged Huebert to come to the Port Trevorton area.

Within the first hour and 15 minutes, 42 people had registered for services.

Huebert said the daily average is usually about 50, so he was impressed by the turnout. Some people traveled from as far as Mifflinburg and Turbotville.

Huebert said he and the others from Susquehanna Health System have learned to work with the Mennonite and Amish, to serve them in a way that fits their comfort level.

"We’ve been interested in serving the plain community and have tried to understand them. They’re not against care," Huebert said. "As we were seeing these folks, we sensed that their needs were a little bit different and their concerns were a little bit different."

He said the most common complaint among the Amish and Mennonite is that doctors order too many tests or bring too many specialists into the room at one time.

He said he believes part of their fear stems from the fact that many do not have health insurance.

Huebert said it is common to see Amish and Mennonite people who have waited longer than they should have for services, so prevention is stressed at the clinics.

Free services Thursday included blood pressure checks, blood tests for cholesterol and glucose, colon cancer screenings, osteoporosis tests, pneumonia vaccines, vision and hearing tests and physical breast exams.

Huebert said the screenings, while run by Susquehanna Health System, reflect a cooperative effort in the community.

Tetanus shots were offered by the Department of Health, and the Pennsylvania College of Technology offered free dental screenings. Each family was also given a smoke detector and health care brochures. Other services that were offered at a discounted rate were prostate cancer and thyroid tests.

Huebert said he has learned over the years that many Amish and Mennonite people believe in using vitamins and herbal remedies to treat ailments. He said it is important to work with members of this community rather than try to force them to change their beliefs and take multiple medications and undergo a variety of tests if they are not necessary.

"Being sensitive to a different way of looking at things goes a long way toward building trust," he said. "I haven’t found these folks to be against care or against technology, not in the least."

Dr. Jay Miller, a general practitioner with Susquehanna Health System, has been working in the clinic every year since it started. He grew up near Amish and Mennonite communities, and Huebert said he has an easy relationship with the people who seek care at the annual clinic.

Miller said the advantage of the screenings is that the health care community has the chance to reach out to people who might not otherwise seek care.

"A lot of these folks just aren’t comfortable ... in the usual doctor’s office," he said. "It’s just an effort for us to come to them."

Miller said there are a lot of children who are not up-to-date on their immunizations, so he is glad to see them get tetanus shots. He said he has also been stressing colon cancer screenings because many people may not hear of the test anywhere else. He said he always gets a good response to the clinic.

"It’s a group that does seem to be fairly interested in their health," he said. "They take it seriously."

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