First-of-its-kind family health fair planned for Putnam County

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exterior of Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center building
Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center. Mercer University photo

Mercer University’s School of Medicine, McAfee School of Theology and the Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center (GRHIC) are joining forces with community leaders of Putnam County for a first-of-its-kind, family health fair. The event will be a cornerstone initiative of the Faith in Rural Health Program (FIRH) designed to address Putnam County’s health needs by fostering collaboration between faith leaders, health care providers and community members.

“Putnam County is a small, closely connected, compassionate, and friendly place with a welcoming spirit,” said Paul Byrd, Faith in Rural Health program director, who is a former pediatric chaplain with decades of experience working in health care environments. “The community is faith-filled and encourages community engagement.”

Started in March 2022, the Faith in Rural Health program aims to support the physical, mental and spiritual health of people in rural Georgia counties by coordinating the efforts of clergy, physicians and health care professionals. The purpose of the three-year project is threefold:

  • to assess areas of need and opportunities for collaboration
  • to collaborate with existing sites for holistic care modeling and student training
  • to create relationships between medical professionals and local clergy for synergetic work

The initiative is currently underway in Berrien, Putnam, Toombs and Montgomery counties.

The idea for the health fair was born out of a roundtable discussion among a group of Putnam County’s faith leaders, health care providers, and community members. They gathered at Putnam General Hospital to discuss the county’s unique strengths and its critical needs and considered how to join forces to address holistic health challenges to ultimately improve the quality of life throughout Putnam County. The group continues to meet and invites interested members of the community to join them in fostering broader community collaboration.

From that first meeting, the group identified the need for better health awareness around COVID, diabetes, heart disease, healthy diet and nutrition, as well as the need for a broader awareness of the resources already available to address these needs. The lack of connection between health care providers and churches and the devastation of drug use and addiction were also identified as challenges.

“Resisting the temptation to become overwhelmed with these challenges, the group decided to lean in and explore ways to help by working together,” explained Byrd. “This includes the community health fair and finding better ways to communicate the county’s resources.”

Dr. Craig Williamson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Eatonton, understands the role health care plays in the wholeness of people’s lives and the role the church plays in holistic healing.

“I want to be a part of that. I want my church, and the church at large, to be a part of that.” he said, “There is a good community sense present within the county. There are good resources among the community, and there are good ways that they peaceably talk to one another.”

The free, community-wide, all-day family health fair will be Saturday, Oct. 28, at Putnam’s Main Street Stage. The event will feature health education and screenings for the whole family, including:

  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Medication interactions
  • Mental health

The health fair will culminate in a fall festival featuring musical performances from local churches as well as fun and games for the kids. The goal of the event is to involve all the churches, health providers, and community organizations that share a passion for the county and its people.

“I hope that people in the faith community and the medical community continue to talk with one another,” said Dr. Williamson. “I hope they will continue to share meals and conversations and make known one another’s needs so that the medical community and faith community work peaceably together in ways that are healing for the whole community.”

  • Current partners collaborating on the family health fair include:
  • Mercer Medicine
  • Putnam General Hospital
  • Georgia Rural Health Innovation Center
  • New Life Outreach Christian Center
  • Texas AME Zion
  • Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church
  • First Baptist Church Eatonton
  • First UMC Eatonton
  • Family Connections

If you, your church or your medical practice are interested in participating in the community-wide health fair, please contact Cecil Kilgore: cecildkilgore@gmail.com, Craig Williamson: craigwmsn@gmail.com or Paul Byrd: byrd_pd@mercer.edu.