Fairs often offer free health screenings and resources
Such events can be helpful for people without health insurance
More than 30,000 people in the county had no coverage in 2014
For people who lack health care coverage, get nervous in doctors’ offices, or just want to watch their spending, community health fairs are an opportunity to have basic screenings without a lot of hassle.
Just ask Maria Cortez. The 44-year-old mother of three was at Delhi Middle School with her children Thursday to take part in the fifth annual health and safety fair put on by Community Unity, a group of local organizations and residents.
Last year, she attended Community Unity’s fair to take advantage of the free screenings. She didn’t have health coverage at the time and a visit to a doctor’s office would cost her about $80, an expense that would put a dent in her wallet.
She had her blood pressure checked and was screened for diabetes free of charge. What Cortez didn’t expect was to start the application process for health coverage that same day.
She said she was referred to a Covered California information booth where she discovered she qualified for coverage under Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people with low incomes.
“It was a great relief and a great help,” she said.
Fast-forward a year, Cortez is now insured and has a primary care doctor. But she still attends health fairs and makes use of the resources offered whenever she can. The resources she has found at these types of events, she said, have become invaluable for her and her family.
THE FREE SERVICES AVAILABLE IN HEALTH FAIRS ARE BASIC, BUT CAN LEAD TO A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF ONE’S HEALTH AND HEALTH CARE SERVICES, ESPECIALLY FOR PEOPLE WHO LACK COVERAGE.
Cortez supports the health fairs, in part, to make sure such events continue.
“If there’s not enough participation, they (organizers) might have to get rid of it,” Cortez said. “I come in support because I know it’s helpful. It helped me.”
The free services available in health fairs are basic, but can lead to a better understanding of one’s health and health care services, especially for people who lack coverage. Some events also offer vaccinations for children, dental screenings and eye exams.
In Merced County, 12.8 percent of the population did not have any type of health coverage in 2014, according to the latest census numbers released this week. That’s about 33,591 people. That’s also slightly higher than the state average of uninsured people in 2014 at 12.4 percent.
About 11.7 percent of those uninsured in Merced County make $25,000 or less a year.
Representatives from the American Cancer Society, Alcoholics Anonymous groups, Planned Parenthood and health clinics, among others, were present during Thursday’s event.
In unincorporated communities, some of these services are not always readily available. And access is even harder if you don’t have transportation.
“We have to take advantage when they come to us,” Cortez said.
An hour into the health fair, 100 people had checked in. Francisca Briones, the secretary of Community Unity and principal at Shattuck Educational Park in Delhi, said the annual safety and health fair has gathered anywhere from 200 to 500 people in the past.
Several communities in Merced County hold regular health fairs. The events are open to anyone, whether or not they live in the community, and most services are free.
In the past, events put on by health clinics in Atwater, for example, have recorded close to 1,000 attendees.
Convenience isn’t the only reason people go to these types of health events. Some just feel more comfortable in a nonmedical setting.
Elena Plascencia, 74, has been a Delhi resident for almost 30 years. She also attended Thursday’s safety and health fair specifically for the free screenings. Although she has a Medi-Cal card, she doesn’t have a primary care doctor.
Plascencia said she doesn’t like visiting clinics or doctors’ offices.
“They make me nervous,” she said with a half smile. “I know I have to go in sometimes, but I prefer this (setting).”
If nurses find anything of concern during the screenings, she follows up at a clinic.
She views the free health tests as the most basic type of preventive measures, and tries to get screened regularly. She knows firsthand the importance of regular checkups. Her husband of 58 years is a cancer survivor, and credits early detection as a reason he is still with her.
“We have to take our health very seriously,” she said. At the fair, she was also able to get information about low-cost phones for the disabled and hard-of-hearing people such as her husband.
“They have a little bit of everything here.”