Sonora, CA — For well over 30 years a community fair focused on taking care of its own continues to be as much a part of fall in the Mother Lode as the changing foliage.
This year’s Tuolumne County Adult Health Fair at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora got off to a busy start. By Tuesday morning at 9, well over 700 people had already taken advantage of the onsite blood panel draw offered for $25, a fraction of its normal cost, charged only to help subsidize the involved lab costs. By midmorning, close to a thousand folks had already taken advantage of at least three of the more than dozen free health screenings ranging from blood pressure and body fat to bone density and balance.
By Wednesday at 3 p.m., when the fair ends, organizers expect thousands of folks, ages 18 and over, will save hundreds of dollars each on health checks, pre-emptive screenings, flu and pneumonia shots. Although many will be locals, organizers say the event has become such a draw that neighbors from nearby counties such as Calaveras, Mariposa and Stanislaus and a goodly mix of savvy visitors who have carefully timed their vacations will have taken full advantage of an event that, outside of Tuolumne County, is a rare wonder, indeed.
Powered by a collective of numerous local agencies, civic groups and over 250 volunteers, this year’s two-day health fair extravaganza features, in addition to the aforementioned valuable free screenings, over 75 informational healthcare and health and wellness industry booths, many giving away helpful information, health and wellness-themed swag and nutritional gifts of fresh fruit, granola bars and more. Dalaine Heagle, the event’s chief volunteer organizer, in tandem with fair co-chair and county nursing director Kathy Amos, welcomed Clarke Broadcasting to the event shortly after its Tuesday morning opening. (For a look at their cheerful nutshell event overview, click the video link in the upper left image box where you may also preview a slideshow of images.)
Turning Up The Volume On Health, Savings
This year, Heagle says the event has gotten even healthier than it already was; new attractions include exercise demonstrations and a selection of salads on the healthy fare menu from the kitchen run by the Women of the Moose Lodge, who are serving free meals throughout the posted fair times. Amos adds that this year the whole fairgrounds has been designated a smoke-free area, perhaps a first for the facility during such a public event. She chuckles at the thought, noting, “I expected to see some issues come out of that and there have not been.”
In terms of cost savings, besides the extremely inexpensive blood panel offering, Amos says, all it takes is to walk through the free screenings to appreciate how quickly the tab would add up through an insurance provider or doctor. She states, “The eye exams are…a perfect example…you can come here and get a vision test for near and farsightedness, a glaucoma test and cataract screening by professionals, and if you were to do that with your insurance company it would be $300 to $400, easy — then, take it from there, as you make the rounds through dental, chiropractor checks.” While unsure of the costs of the fair, itself, she says, without a doubt, it will break even, due to its uniquely collaborative nature and the high degree of volunteerism supporting it.
“I think that the success stories that are beyond measure in dollars are the ones where they have said ‘well I had the screening done and I was hearing-impaired, and I was able to go and get hearing aids…and it changed my life,’” Heagle confides. Amos agrees, adding, “It’s hard to put a price on that value…or catching something early, and then having a better quality of life.” She points to examples of past fair attendees obtaining findings of such issues as pre-cancerous melanomas, blood pressure and balance problems, the latter of which, might be mitigated with instructions and exercises to improve balance, which helps prevent falls, a leading cause of injury in older adults. Gently alluding to the obvious, she states, “You do need regular periodic screening to keep yourself healthy.”
Amos, who says that annual planning for the fair begins each year in July, admits to getting calls from larger cities asking just how the county is able to pull off such an effort with so many community partners, versus having a smaller hospital-sponsored event. She chalks it up to a perfectly sized populace, remarking, “We have this close-knit community-wide feeling of collaboration, and it goes from the top down to the bottom up, and side to side It’s just completely collaborative. None of this would be possible without that effort.”
Wednesday’s hours at the health fair run from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Parking and admission are completely free and you do not have to be a county resident to take part. The blood draw, only, starts at 5am.