The coronavirus pandemic has revealed and exacerbated the health and healthcare disparities that have long affected underserved communities. Those who suffer from chronic illnesses may have delayed or stopped testing and treatment during the pandemic.
That’s why Quest Diagnostics is teaming up with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Warrick Dunn and several Tampa Bay nonprofits to provide free health services to those 18 and older.
The “Tackle Your Testing” program will allow residents to undergo free medical tests for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer and sexually transmitted infections. They’ll also be able to talk to medical professionals, and the program will connect people with antibody testing for COVID-19.
The first clinics in Tampa will take place Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Seminole Heights Methodist Church at 6111 N Central Ave. Dunn will attend Saturday’s clinic.
”I know we have hesitancy about getting tested sometimes because of the history,” Dunn said. “But if you really think about yourself and your family, you (would) want to do what’s in your best interest and their best interest.”
Andrew Young, Quest Diagnostics’ regional medical director for the southeast, called it the “hidden pandemic.”
He said the testing program addresses “the large number of health disparities in underserved communities that were further enlarged by delayed treatment or diagnosis during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Their goal is “reducing the gap in healthcare made available to underserved populations and improve their overall health and wellbeing.”
During the pandemic in 2020, Quest Diagnostics said it saw a significant drop in new diagnoses among the laboratory company’s clients: a 70 percent drop in diagnosing type 2 diabetes diagnosis; a 64 percent drop in diagnostic tests for heart disease; a 46 percent fall in new cancer diagnoses; and a 39 percent reduction in cases of sexually transmitted infections.
Those and many other diseases also went undetected and untreated as the pandemic delayed medical appointments and testing.
Quest said the program is focused on communities who have been disproportionately excluded from the healthcare system, including Black and Hispanic communities and those living in poverty. However, Young said the event is open to anyone who wishes to attend.
Quest is putting on the clinics along with Tampa Family Health Centers, Feeding Tampa Bay, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay, and Dunn, the former NFL and Florida State star whose charities include Homes for the Holidays.
Doctors at Tampa Family Health Centers will provide free consultation and on-site assistance at this weekend’s clinics and residents can sign-up for follow-up appointments.
Feeding Tampa Bay will supply healthy snacks and information to help participants learn more about their opportunities to register for programs such as the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to help address America’s food insecurity.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay will talk about the various benefits of its mentoring programs. Children ages 5-13 can enroll in the program and adults can sign up to be a volunteer.
The next Tampa clinics will be held Aug. 21 and 22.
“I think it’s important to encourage people and underserved communities that seeing the doctor is important,” Dunn said. “But also know that this request is free, at no cost. We just need you to show up and do your part.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated with information that Warrick Dunn will attend Saturday’s clinic.