STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- The Hilton Garden Inn was abuzz from the moment the fourth annual Health & Wellness Expo kicked off Thursday morning in Bloomfield.
Anthony DePrimo/Staten Island Advance
Zumba instructor Elaine Gil helps youngsters with their fitnes routine during the 4th annual Health and Wellness Expo sponsored by Staten Island University Hospital and the Staten Island Economic Developement Corporation inside the Hilton Garden Inn in Bloomfield. Thursday September 27, 2012. (Staten Island Advance/Anthony DePrimo)
By the time the keynote address took place at 9 a.m., hundreds of visitors were already present to meet the 100-plus vendors positioned throughout the hotel for free screenings, workshops, seminars and information regarding all aspects of healthy living.
Organizers expected more than 3,000 people -- the most the expo has received.
Staged by the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation, the event was sponsored by City Councilman James Oddo, Staten Island University Hospital and Primary Care Ambulance.
"All of us being here today will help some folks get the tools they need for their own health," said Oddo (R-Mid-Island/Brooklyn) during the morning keynote in the Teahouse Garden that was attended by more than 100 people. "Living a healthy lifestyle is an individual act. You have to want it on your own, but it can be a team sport. We can pick each other up."
The opening address included Oddo, Staten Island University Hospital CEO Anthony Ferrari, President & CEO of North Shore-LIJ Health System Michael J. Dowling and Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.
"This is going to be the most successful event on Staten Island. We need to get the word out to all people of Staten Island about preventative, about wellness, about health care and taking care of yourselves and leading a healthy lifestyle," said Ferrari.
Dowling addressed the current health care situation in America and credited the medical progress that has occurred in the last century.
"Health care as an industry is going to dramatically expand. Just remember this fact: 82 million people are now turning age 65," he said. "That's going to drive demand for health care much greater than it is today. It'll be different, and it should be better."
In the last 100 years, medical advances have added 35 years to the lifespan, said Dowling.
"Just imagine the things we can do today that we could not have done 50 years ago, or 30 years ago," Dowling noted.
Successful efforts to decrease smoking in Staten Island are reason to cheer, said Sara Gardner, the executive director of the Fund for Public Health New York. Ms. Gardner, who stepped in for Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, who could not attend the event, noted, "For the past four years [2006-09], Staten Island has had the dubious distinction of having the highest smoking rate of all five boroughs."
But that changed in 2010, when the Island had the second-lowest rate citywide, 13.5 percent. "I think that's pretty great news," she said to applause.
Overall, Ms. Gardner said smoking rates citywide fell from 22 percent in 2001 to 14 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, teen smoking rates fell from 19 percent to 17 percent, which she said was "too high but far below the national numbers that stand at 20 percent."
She said the decrease here as well as citywide was thanks to a multi-pronged approach that included a citywide ban on smoking in offices, bars and, most recently, city parks and beaches. Not to mention state and city taxes on cigarettes, which bring the cost of a pack "to a whopping $11.90."
That was followed by educational programs, increased efforts by local health care professionals and successful local anti-smoking campaigns.
Ms. Gardner noted that everyone has a responsibility in making sure that borough residents remain healthy.
"Our collective actions can make a difference; we can all become health heroes," she said.
The main ballroom included vendors from Community Resources; Primary Care Ambulance; Community Agency for Senior Citizens, Inc.; AmeriGroup, Emergency Children's Help Organization; HealthCare Partners; Millenium Medical Billing, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and many more.
Numerous seminars about medication, careers in health care services, eye care, osteoarthritis, raising a healthy family in the 21st century, solving the mysery of diet and exercise, and accessing health care were all part of the day's many components.
Tackling Youth Substance Abuse (TYSA) also held "Prescriptions & Addictions" and "A Teenage Wasteland" to focus on ways to combat young Staten Islanders' struggle with prescription drugs and other damaging vices.
Victoria Magee Arvanites of Community Resources said many visitors benefited tremendously from the expo.
"I saw some students getting good information. It's good to grab people while they're young and educate them on how to be more healthy," she said.
Special Tees employee Pennie Kotula called the event a great opportunity for business networking, as well as a chance to spread awareness to the community.
Margaret Dotts clutched a bundle of pamphlets and other bits of information as she wended her way through the hotel before noon.
"It's interesting. You really need to read up on all of it," said Ms. Dotts. "Everything's under one roof, and that's what's good about it."