Bridget Curtis, a restaurant hostess in New Orleans, works between 15 and 30 hours a week, not enough to qualify for health insurance from her employer. 

Curtis was at the Hospitality Health Fair at Champions Square on Wednesday, Nov. 15. The free event offered health services for those in the service industry as well as underinsured and uninsured residents. The health fair was hosted by New Orleans & Co., which partnered with Ochsner and LCMC health systems, 504HealthNet and Verite News. 

Nearly 20 health care providers, including representatives from Ochsner Health, LCMC Health and InclusivCare, provided blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol screenings, COVID and flu shots, HIV and STD testing, and vision and dental screenings. Health fair attendees also had the opportunity to sign up for Medicaid or Medicare.

At the health fair, Curtis, 41, got COVID and flu vaccines. She also got her blood pressure, glucose and cholesterol checked at the Ochsner table. 

“I really needed to get my vaccines and get some health things checked up to make sure I’m doing OK,” Curtis said. “This was a really great opportunity and I’m glad that this was being done today.”

Shondra Williams, president and CEO of InclusivCare and chair of 504HealthNet, a local nonprofit comprising 26 community health care organizations, said the event was intended for people like Curtis, who work but do not have insurance or are underinsured and do not make enough to cover the cost of care.

“Our goal is to ensure that the people who take care of us, such as the hospitality workers, have access to high quality and affordable health care,” Williams said of the health fair.

There were nearly 20 health care vendors at the 2023 Hospitality Health Fair on Nov. 15. Attendees had an opportunity to get free vaccines and HIV testing. Credit: Lue Palmer

Shannon Ferguson was released from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in August after serving 11 years on a drug conviction. He heard of the Hospitality Health Fair from Innocence Project New Orleans, which provided him with transportation to attend the health fair.

“I’m over 60. I wanted to make sure I got everything done, my shots and everything up to date for the winter coming up,” said Ferguson, 63. 

In addition to getting his blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checked, Ferguson got a COVID vaccine and also inquired about dental care from one of the vendors.

“I went to the pharmacy to get my shots and all they had was the flu shot and the RSV [vaccine]. They didn’t have the COVID vaccines,” said Ferguson, who has Medicaid. “This was the best place to get everything done at one time.”

Tonia Moore, director of community engagement for Ochsner Health, which also had a smoking cessation table, said the health fair offered people an opportunity to interact one-on-one with healthcare professionals and get educational material on preventable diseases like diabetes. 

“We got to make sure that our hospitality industry workers, they’re healthy and they’re vibrant,” Moore said. “They’re part of the fabric of New Orleans.”

The Hospitality Health Fair hosted by New Orleans & Co., featured free COVID and flu vaccines. Credit: Lue Palmer

Susan Whitmore, 69, attended the health fair to get a free COVID vaccine, but also ended up getting her blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose checked at the event. 

“A lot of people don’t understand the results if you don’t take care of your body,” Whitmore said. “I didn’t learn until a later age the things you can prevent before something actually happens.”

Kevin Ferguson, vice president of external affairs and membership for New Orleans & Co., said the hospitality health fair came out of a need to make health care accessible for the hospitality workforce. 

“This really was a great collaboration to bring care to a community, not just testing and diagnostics, but to really hopefully connect them to a network of clinics and providers that can provide care for them at low or no cost,” Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he was glad to see the city’s two largest hospital systems — Ochsner and LCMC — partner together for the event.

“This was really about helping people and helping them get the treatment they need,” Ferguson said. “And so it was exciting to see those groups come together and support this. We’ve already talked to the partners about when we’re going to do the next one.”

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Lottie L. Joiner, assistant managing editor at Verite, is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience covering issues that impact underserved and marginalized communities. She...