A volunteer washes a patient’s foot during the 2015 NOMA health fair in Orlando.
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Q&A: Ohio DO has led NOMA’s health fair at OMED for 15 years

Darrell Grace, DO, explains how she was inspired to organize the fair, which serves homeless patients, how the fair has helped communities and how you can get involved.

During OMED later this year in Austin, Texas, the National Osteopathic Medical Association (NOMA) will arrange for a group of medical volunteers to coalesce at a local homeless shelter or mission to provide a day of free care and wellness exams.

Held each year at OMED since 2005, NOMA’s health fair is the brainchild of Darrell Grace, DO, who has also organized the fair every year since its inception.

An internist in Youngstown, Ohio, Dr. Grace says her mother’s generosity inspired her to start the fair.

While on a visit to San Francisco many years ago, Dr. Grace says her mother would stop frequently on the street to speak with homeless people and help them if she could, thinking of family members who had once lived through similar situations. At one point, Dr. Grace said, “Mom, you can’t help everybody.” But saying that out loud and seeing her mother’s generosity gave her an idea—what if she could?

In this edited Q&A, Dr. Grace explains how the health fair came to be, the ways it has helped serve communities for 15 years, and how to get involved.

How did you propose the idea of the health fair to NOMA?

There’s too much talent that comes to town during OMED, and there are so many doctors who want the chance to volunteer. So I proposed that we have a health fair for homeless people, because I have been working with underserved patients for most of my career in the town that I live in. NOMA passed the resolution, and I agreed to serve as chair.

The first one was in Orlando at the Orlando Union Rescue Mission during OMED 2005. I flew down beforehand and met with representatives from the mission, and they were happy to get on board. We saw over 300 homeless men, women and children that day. The mission was also trying to get its nursery remodeled, and we raised money to help fund their nursery. That’s how it all started.

How does fundraising work?

We fundraise at OMED. We do it in the morning at a booth in the convention center before the AOA convenes and CME events start. We always have somebody from the local mission we’re serving there with us to help receive the money.

We’ve collected roughly $40,000 at every OMED since 2005, and have been the grateful recipient of additional funding from the American Osteopathic Foundation for nearly ten years.

What goes on at the health fair, and how many patients receive care?

Volunteers from around the country provide wellness exams, and we usually give everybody socks and a new bag to put their belongings in. But sometimes our volunteers go above and beyond.

In Orlando in 2015, we had students who wanted to wash patients’ feet, give them shoes and feed them. We raised enough money to get over 1,000 pairs of shoes so every man, woman and child we served got a new pair, as well as a meal. That same year, there was a family living in the woods behind the mission that came in to receive care. We worked with representatives from the mission to get them housing that evening.

The number of patients we see every year varies based on the size of the mission we’re working with and the city. Generally, we want to be able to care for as many homeless people as we can with the money we have to spend on supplies, and we’ve seen 2,600 patients since 2005.

How can the osteopathic community help out with future health fairs?

All you have to do is contact me at dgrace1698@aol.com. Any DO who wants to be involved can be. Everybody who helps is so kind.

Related reading:

A Detroit DO’s advice for treating homeless patients

Learning OMT—and compassion—at a clinic for homeless patients

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