Xavier’s health and wellness center meets a big need

Did you know there is a center where anyone, not just the uninsured or underserved population, can get free checks on blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol and individualized instruction on nutrition, exercise and healthy living?

The Health and Wellness Center operated by the Xavier University School of Pharmacy at 5110 Jefferson Hwy. (next to the Wal-Mart on Clearview Parkway in Harahan) offers those screenings.  Screening results are immediate.

In addition, free individual or group classes on diabetes management with a certified diabetes educator, free medication check-ups and peripheral artery disease screenings are available, said center director and pharmacist, Dr. William Kirchain, a pharmacy professor.

“We try to focus on the whole health education aspect of care,” Kirchain said.

Several free classes on healthy holiday cooking in the center’s demonstration room have been presented during the holidays. One remains on Dec. 20 at noon: “Healthy Holiday Party” with local chef Marilyn Doucette of Meals from the Heart (www.mealsfromtheheartllc.com). RSVP at 733-1127.

A post-Katrina rebirth

Before Hurricane Katrina, Xavier University’s College of Pharmacy worked with the City of New Orleans’ health department in Gert Town, near Xavier’s campus. The thrust  then was to help individuals with diabetes-related health issues by offering screenings and education.

“It all started out as a vision by the dean of the college of pharmacy and (Xavier president) Dr. Norman Francis to do something that would reach the underserved population in our area, give them tools to prevent disease,” Kirchain said.

Katrina destroyed the center’s original location and wiped out the population that used it. As recovery from the hurricane continued, Xavier’s College of Pharmacy began speaking with its many community partners, Kirchain said, and Wal-Mart offered a 3,000-square-foot space that allowed the Health and Wellness Center to reopen in Harahan in 2009.

Pharmacists from Xavier University’s College of Pharmacy and senior pharmacy students man the center along with administrative assistant Danitra Hawkins. It’s funded by a Xavier Foundation grant and other grants.

Watching your weight

In addition to screenings, the center offers a Healthy Happy Weight Club with one-on-one attention. Members get measured for body fat, muscle mass, how many calories are burned at rest and are offered meal and exercise plans. Members decide on visits, Kirchain said.

The idea behind the weight club is not necessarily how many pounds a person loses.

“We are trying to create a healthier lifestyle in someone that will last,” Kirchain said. “We’re more interested in the net health effects, not the weight effects, but we’re not going to argue if someone has a weight goal in mind.”

After any assessment at the center, pharmacists refer clients to their doctor or community health centers and can send results in writing.

“We have people come in with all kinds of issues,” Kirchain said. “We have caregivers with medication questions, mental health issues, etc. As pharmacists, we are used to that. If you were a community pharmacist, at least once a week, you’d have questions from people who need to see another doctor. No one gets diagnosed. It is a screening to see if they need to see someone else as a follow up.”

The center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but appointments are available after hours at 733-1127 or by contacting wellnessctr@xula.edu. Transportation also can be arranged.

Kirchain sees the center as a work in progress. If there is a program or screening requested, the center will try to provide it. He hopes to establish a partnership for exercise classes in the future. Health fairs have been conducted off-site, and the center already opens its demonstration room for community meetings free of charge.

Kirchain hopes more people realize the center has reopened. “I think we’re having a positive impact in the community, but it could be greater,” he said.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarionherald.org.

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