Herman Herbert stood in a long-line that sliced through an auditorium floor at Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. Herbert, along with more than 20 men, was waiting to get tested for HIV/AIDS, the last item on his checklist at Saturday’s Know Your Numbers! Men’s Health Initiative.
“I went home, did some errands, came back and the line is still long,” said Herbert during the first-time event co-hosted by the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network.
But the 62-year old from Germantown wasn’t surprised. Many men, he said, especially black men, tend to shy away from the screening. Herbert himself was getting tested for the first time.
“This is something that everybody has a tendency to overlook or forget,” said Herbert, who added that the test is particularly important in the black community where the disease is “rampant.”
Enon Associate Pastor Leroy Miles said men also tend to avoid the doctor’s office for many other tests. As a result, he said, the event was also set up to do real-time, on-site testing for prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke, among other things.
Miles said this event was specifically geared toward men to raise the comfort level for attendees. He said Enon created a “man cave” of sorts – complete with a barbershop, video games and a big screen to watch the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Organizers hope it’s a less traditional, perhaps less anxiety-filled setting for the screenings.
“The goal really is to create an environment where men, who historically don’t do preventative healthcare, will hang out as long as it takes to get the screenings done,” said Miles.
Efforts to achieve that goal appeared successful Saturday. Miles said close to 1100 men pre-registered for the event, but estimated that more than 1500 men attended. He estimated the average time to complete the full battery of tests at 2-3 hours.
Dr. Donee Patterson, Einstein’s Director of Medical Community Outreach, said that seemingly long wait time was particularly well worth it for a community that leads most in the prevalence of many medical disorders.
Nearly half of those with HIV/AIDS in the U.S., for example, are black, she said, citing the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And one in three black men gets prostate cancer. The national average for all men is one in six.
Patterson added that in Philadelphia, the rates for those conditions as well as for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, are among the highest for cities with similar-sized populations.
“Even though we may not be able to quantify it, I believe we’ve saved some lives today,” said Patterson, who worked through the event’s entirety, 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Herbert agreed with Patterson, but said the event also helps to break-down the macho attitude he said many men invoke to avoid visits to the doctor. That attitude, he said, sends the wrong message to younger generations, but can be reversed.
“You set an example by going to the doctor and then kids see this and grow up and say ‘Well, my dad did it. I can do it,’” said Herbert.