In an effort to minimize chances of a flu or pneumonia epidemic in the Casa Esperanza homeless center this winter, county health professionals and volunteers staffed what is arguably Santa Barbara’s most ambitious public health event of the year: Project Healthy Neighbors. Starting on 11/26, the three day fair offered a range of free vaccines, HIV, TB and blood pressure tests, physician examinations, hair-cuts and information about community counseling and recovery opportunities. Area homeless and quasi-homeless persons were welcomed, and each person received a backpack full of cold weather clothing, snacks and a phone card.

Four years ago, a serious outbreak of pneumonia in Casa Esperanza landed nine of its residents in the hospital. No one died, but physicians and advocates realized that prevention measures should precede the shelter’s winter services. This week’s fair was the third annual Project Healthy Neighbors event.

By the end of Monday’s session, nurses had administered 100 flu vaccines, 30 pneumonia vaccines and 60 HIV tests. Fifteen people had inquired about entering an alcohol recovery program and one person was sent to the hospital with a blood sugar level five times higher than normal. -Isabelle T. Walker


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