For Rifle, Primary Healthcare Includes Health Fairs

A story hits home for one reporter.
The local 9HealthFair was in Rifle on Saturday and I had two objectives when I attended: First, as a reporter on assignment, I went to survey people about why they participated; second, I wanted to get my yearly checkup at the “doctor’s.” Because of high health insurance deductibles, I use the health fair as my primary health-care maintenance check. I found I was not alone.KBTV Channel 9News, the Colorado Lions Clubs, the National Guard and hundreds of medical and non-medical volunteers, started the nonprofit 9HealthFair in 1980. Over 1.7 million individuals have attended the events usually held between April and May. With the financial support from corporate and medical sponsors, the health fair has grown to over 95 locations in 2008. Most health-fair locations offer free screenings such as for blood pressure, skin cancer, vision, hearing, pap smears, bone density, prostate, breast cancer and others services. Blood chemical diagnostic tests and prostate PSA tests are provided for a nominal fee.

The new Grand River Medical Center helped sponsor the health fair in Rifle and after nearly 15 years in conducting the event, organizers and volunteers had the system down pat. There were no waiting lines at the registration tables when I came in at 11 a.m.

Chris Daler, the Grand River Hospital District (GRHD) public relations director and event door greeter, estimated nearly 500 locals had taken advantage of the service so far. “It doesn’t matter if they have health insurance or not, people depend on the health fairs as an important part of their health-care services,” Daler said. “I think many use it as their only yearly medical checkup.”

Daler’s assistant, Sarah Tahvonen, agreed. “Some people today told me this is the only time they see a health-care provider, especially those in the Latino community. Some others have said this service is a blessing because they cannot afford health insurance.”

And that was just what I found, for instance, with people like Patty and Craig, a self-employed couple who have high health-insurance deductibles. Craig said they have been going to the health fair for years and each time it has become a bigger supplement to their health-care program. “The same blood chemistry test with doctor fees included would cost us hundreds of dollars.”

Patty agreed, adding, “If something comes up of concern here, then I’ll go to my doctor.”

While waiting in line for an exam, I talked to a woman who had just changed jobs. “I don’t get health-care coverage at the office where I work now, so I have to pay for it myself,” she said. “For $250 a month, I have what is basically catastrophic health coverage with a $5,000 deductible. I depend on the health fair for my yearly check-up.”

Another benefit of the health fair in Rifle, it’s a community affair. A local nurse lectured me with her stethoscope in my face when she found out I had not gone to my doctor about a problem with high blood pressure. It’s not easy to blow off a nurse I’ll run into at the grocery store so I’m going to make the doctor’s appointment today.

Another acquaintance of mine said the health fair is a good time to visit with friends and share experiences, like at the health-fair prostate checkup this year.

“The prettiest and youngest doctor did the physical,” he related. “None of us old guys in line had been to a woman doctor for a prostate test before. No one dared to chicken out, though,” he said. “We were in this situation together.”

It didn’t matter who I talked to during my visit to Rifle’s health fair on Saturday — the doctors, assisting medical personnel and participants all agreed, the 9HealthFair had become an integral part and for some, the only regular health-care review they will receive this year.

It is also good preventive medicine. My health fair checkups showed I needed to be proactive with my health and take action now, possibly saving my insurer and me from costlier medical procedures in the future.

Leaving the event, I reflected on the lack of funding for government health programs and the rising costs of health-care insurance; plus, I mulled over the debates on universal health care confronting state and federal leaders. At least for one half-day in Rifle, the health fair was an oasis in our health-care crisis.

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