In late October, Clemson Rural Health’s mobile outreach team traveled to nine electric cooperatives in the Upstate and Midlands to support the Electric Cooperative’s Ride Across South Carolina, an event organized by the South Carolina Power Team, an economic development organization representing the state’s 20 electric cooperatives.
The bicycle ride – and supporting health fairs – were initiated in memory of Brian Kelly, a former Pee Dee Electric Cooperative president, who passed away unexpectedly in 2017 from a heart attack. The cyclists rode a total of 648 miles over seven days and visited 19 of the state’s electric cooperatives.
A collaboration between Clemson Rural Health; Healthy Me, Healthy SC; the Medical University of South Carolina; and the American Heart Association; the health fairs traveled alongside cyclists so that employees at the electric cooperatives could participate while cheering on the riders. Clemson Rural Health’s team included registered nurses conducting blood pressure screenings with a nurse practitioner providing follow up consultations, health educators offering lifestyle lessons, and a registered dietitian conducting nutrition demonstrations.
According to Caitlin Kickham, associate director of Clemson Rural Health, the traveling format of the health fairs was the perfect showcase for Clemson Rural Health’s runabout mobile clinics, unveiled in 2020, which allow clinicians to cover large distances and multiple sites in one day to address the needs of rural South Carolinians. The staff saw more than 200 participants across all the health fairs, and Kickham said it was a great opportunity to stress the importance of heart health both on the job and outside of work.
“Spending 40 hours per week at work with an elevated blood pressure is still a large portion of your week and is hard on your heart,” Kickham said. “Our goal is to empower patients to be aware of and take charge of their own health. Health extends far beyond care in a traditional office setting.”
After receiving screening numbers, patients spoke with Clemson dietitians and educators about individualized strategies to improve their health. As usual, Clemson students were present to get hands on experience during this health coaching event; Clemson Rural Health strives to provide student experiences during mobile outreach whenever possible.
Suzanne Lafond, a senior in the Clemson University Department of Public Health Sciences, traveled with the Clemson Rural Health team during the off-campus experience, and she said she will benefit from the experience during an upcoming internship and her planned career as a physician’s assistant.
“Being a part of the heart health initiative with the electric cooperative workers was a unique experience,” Lafond said. “It was awesome seeing how receptive the participants were to nutrition and lifestyle education.”
Logan McFall, a health educator with Clemson Rural Health, is an avid cyclist, so he was excited to work both sides of the event. He assisted with health screenings and cycled with the other riders.
McFall biked day six, a 116-mile ride from Columbia Central Cooperative to Coastal Cooperative in Walterboro. The ride passed by the State House, Congaree National Park and Tri-County Cooperative in St Matthews. McFall said modeling healthy behaviors is an important part of his career.
“Taking care of myself is important so that I can continue to take care of others, so I was so happy to be able to participate and raise awareness for heart disease,” McFall said. “Heart disease truly is the ‘silent killer;’ so many of our patients, friends and family members are affected, even if they don’t know it.”
Clemson Rural Health is the comprehensive infrastructure of programs and services that act as an organizing framework for health service delivery and clinics as well as collaborative work involving health outreach, research and community development projects. Clemson Rural Health includes the Joseph F. Sullivan Center (JFSC), Clemson Health Clinic – Walhalla, a mobile health van fleet and at-risk community COVID-19 screening teams.
Clemson Rural Health is part of the University’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS). Established in July 2016, CBSHS is a 21st-century, land-grant college that combines work in seven disciplines – Communication; Nursing; Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management; Political Science; Psychology; Public Health Sciences; Sociology, Anthropology and Criminal Justice – to further its mission in “building people and communities” in South Carolina and beyond.
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