June 10, 2013

Health fair to offer free HIV testing and education

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— Georgia ranks ninth in the nation in population. But it ranks sixth in the nation in the number of confirmed HIV cases, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

But the CDC estimates that as many as one fifth of people with HIV don’t know they have it.

“That’s why testing is so important,” said Tina Gossett, an HIV education specialist at Highland Rivers, which provides mental health, substance abuse and developmental disabilities services in 11 Georgia counties, including Whitfield and Murray. The agency’s executive offices are in Dalton.

On Saturday, June 22, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Highland Rivers will join with Avita Community Partners to provide free HIV testing and education at the Mack Gaston Community Center on Fredrick Street in Dalton.

“It’s part of a campaign called Healing Stigma, which was developed by the Georgia HIV Early Intervention Specialists program, and made possible by funding from the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities,” said Gossett. “We want this to be a comfortable and confidential environment.”

Gossett said there will be educational materials for those who want them and then private testing for HIV. Test results will be available that day, and Gossett said Highland Rivers will have counselors on hand for those who test positive, as well as follow-up testing.

All those tested will be entered into a raffle to win cash and other prizes.

The HIV education and testing is part of a health fair hosted by the community center that will also include free testing for blood pressure, blood sugar and other vital signs, free massages, free food and drink, and activities for children.

“People can bring their kids,” said community center director Tom Pinson. “We’ll have a room for them, and they can watch a Disney movie while the parents get confidential counseling and education and testing,”

In addition to HIV education, the fair will feature information on other health issues.

“The Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership will be here, so if, say, someone has high blood pressure, there will be someone there with information about what they need to do to address that,” Gossett said.

The Partnership Health Clinic, which is housed in the community center, will open up its exam rooms and will have staff available to talk about its services.

“We’re a patient-centered medical home. We do a lot of preventative work, a lot of testing. Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital,” said Dr. Wiley Smith, the clinic’s physician.

The Concerned Clergy of Greater Whitfield County will also be taking part in the fair.

“We are trying to make this a community effort. We want to get the community and the city behind this,” said Bishop Stephen Thomas, president of the Concerned Clergy.