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State health officials visit McKeesport SHIP flu clinic

In a National Influenza Vaccination Week tour, state health officials visited McKeesport to observe a local flu shot clinic.

The McKeesport Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP has been a model for influenza vaccine distribution among its Mon River Fleet partners and in communities across the state.

And on Tuesday, the Department of Health and the Mon River Fleet hosted a press conference to highlight prevention partnerships during a clinic session at Action Housing along Sinclair Street in McKeesport.

"The partners here today assist the Department of Health in carrying out two shared goals to increase the years and quality of life for all Pennsylvanians and to eliminate health disparities," said Martin Raniowski, deputy secretary of health planning and assessment.

In this cold and flu season, Raniowski said, such goals can be met by bringing the influenza vaccine to more people, which is achieved by breaking down barriers for access to health care.

Last season, 19,190 laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza were reported to the state Department of Health, and Raniowski explained, those reported cases represent only a fraction of the flu's total public health burden.

In conducting flu clinics at 60 state health centers, the state Department of Health sees National Influenza Vaccination Week as an opportunity to share information and limit the number of individuals affected by influenza this season.

During Tuesday's visit to McKeesport, Raniowski praised the McKeesport SHIP and its partners in the Mon River Fleet for recognizing the impact influenza vaccination can have on community health.

UPMC McKeesport president Cynthia Dorundo said the impact of partnership is profound in the regional influenza vaccination project.

The SHIPS, or State Health Improvement Plans, that make up the Mon River Fleet McKeesport, Clairton, Duquesne and Braddock serve some of the poorest communities in Allegheny County.

"In fact, nine of the 10 poorest communities in Allegheny County are located right here in the Mon Valley region we serve," Dorundo said. "In addition, our service area represents the concentration of the oldest populations in the county, which itself has one of the most aged populations in the entire country."

With poverty and aging combined, Mon Valley health care providers are dealing with a truly at-risk population for chronic and serious health risks, Dorundo said.

"That means it takes an extraordinary vision and an extraordinary sense of commitment to impact the health of our communities," she said. "That's what we recognize today the success of a program that this year alone has already delivered some 5,300 free flu shots to our most fragile and vulnerable residents."

With this year's incomplete number included, the Mon River Fleet has distributed 30,000 vaccines since the program began.

"For the Mon River Fleet, this is a feather in our cap," said Michele Matuch, facilitator for both the McKeesport SHIP and the Fleet. "With what we've done in the eight years by distributing influenza vaccines, we have set a model in the state of Pennsylvania."

Clairton's Healthier Communities PartnerSHIP actually gained its SHIP status in 2003 through participation in McKeesport's influenza initiative.

"This is huge," Clairton SHIP facilitator Alice Jones said after Tuesday's press conference. "Not only in terms of the vaccines themselves, but also that we are able to bring this service to our communities.

"We can provide these vaccines and other health care-related services to our young Head Start children, to their families, and to our aging population."

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