Bruce Johnson’s initial steps toward fostering a healthier local community in Loudon County have grown into a series of monthly health fairs at Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County, with free vision, glucose and blood pressure screenings offered to any county resident.
Johnson began performing vision screenings in the county about six years ago on children 6 years old and younger. He soon realized that he and the Tellico Village Lions Club should be providing the service to all people living within the county.
After searching for a place to hold the community health fairs, Johnson spoke with Karen Bowdle, executive director of the Good Samaritan Center, and opened the health screenings in May.
“If we could do this for the kids, we ought to be able to do it for everybody in the county, not just kids but anybody that wanted to because that’s our mission,” Johnson said. “Part of our mission in the Lions Club was to help with eye sight.”
Bowdle proposed that volunteers with the Lions Club come once per month and offer the screenings on days to reach as many people as possible. The Lions Club holds the events on either the third Tuesday morning or Thursday afternoon each month at the center. Johnson said anyone in the county is welcome regardless of whether they have insurance or not.
Lions Club members said they see an average of 12-15 visitors per month.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Janet McKinney, of Lenoir City, said. “People like me, I don’t have insurance at all. ... There’s a lot of us out there with no insurance. You can’t go to the doctor. They’re wonderful to help.”
From May to August, Johnson said the Lions will send those who qualified for financial assistance to an eye doctor at Walmart. When the physician moved, the Lions reached out to Loudon County residents Dr. Dennis Benedict and his wife, Eddie, who are traveling physicians.
Eddie and Dennis work in the Good Sam kitchen providing eye exams and fitting glasses for those in need. Eddie said her husband primarily works with low income and geriatric patients and chose to participate in the health fair “because of charity.”
“That’s our job is to help people have better vision,” Eddie said. “Some of these people cannot afford glasses, and if they didn’t have some source of someone helping them, I mean, mainly we’re just working through the Lions Club, basically. We bill the insurance if they have it ... but otherwise, Lions Club is paying for their exam and glasses.”
Johnson said people with insurance pay for their own eyewear. Those who do not have insurance are interviewed by the Lions to ensure eligibility, and the Lions Club then pays for their treatment and glasses at a discounted rate.
Since opening the health fair in May, the Lions have tested 116 people, referred 52 for eye glasses and helped 15 in purchasing glasses. Thirty five Lions Club members have collectively spent 136 hours working the health fairs since May.
Johnson said he is hopeful about the future success of the program and continues to see the initiative grow. The next health fair will take place from 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at Good Sam.
“I get chill bumps when I think about it,” Bowdle said. “You wouldn’t believe the difference that being able to see will make in people’s lives. It’s just a beautiful program with a lot of selfless people.”