Fair gives public chance to measure wellness quotient

Shining a bright spotlight on a day dedicated to being well, the Homer Health Fair, sponsored by Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary and South Peninsula Hospital, will be this Saturday, from 7:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at Homer High School.

Free and inexpensive health screenings, up-to-date health information, a wide range of relevant topics and 60 exhibitors offering blood pressure tests, vision tests, hearing tests, fitness tests, flu shots, memory screenings and much, much more will be available. There are hands-on activities and there’s entertainment, all of it within the school’s commons area and gym.

One of the fair’s biggest attractions is the low-cost blood test available before or at the fair. The comprehensive blood analysis is $40, with several add-ons available:

• Prostate screening, $35;

• Thyroid screening, $35;

• Vitamin D, $65;

• Cardiac CRP, $45;

•  Hemoglobin A1C, $35.

No food or drink, except water, should be consumed 10-12 hours before the test; however, prescription medication should be taken and diabetics should not fast. 

“Last year we provided low-cost blood tests to approximately 1,000 people,” said Sharon Minsch of Homer Kachemak Bay Rotary and organizer of the fair. “In 1999, the number was 342 and it was 706 in 2005. We continue to grow.”

To help accommodate the growing interest, South Peninsula Hospital began offering blood draws at the hospital lab in October and will continue through Friday. 

“We’ve had two record draws this year,” said Derotha Ferraro, SPH spokesperson. “One day we had just about 70 people in four hours. There’s a definite demand and participation of our community to do these health screenings in general. The goal is to catch stuff early, while it’s still solvable, treatable and affordable. Early detection makes a big difference all the way around.”

Blood test results will be available at the fair, with medical professionals standing by to help understand what the results mean. 

“They’re not providing diagnoses, just trying to answer any questions you might have and make sure you know whether you need to see your medical professionals or if there are things to watch,” said Minsch. 

Although abnormal lab results generate a note from the hospital to accompany the results, having medical professionals available at the fair has proven “to be a really helpful innovation and addition to the health fair and we are grateful for the time they donate to us to do this,” said Minsch.

The pre-draws also have made it possible to accommodate drop-ins at the fair, those who have forgotten to pre-register for blood draws or decide on Saturday to take advantage of the low-cost tests.

“We have a full complement of phlebotomists and it moves smoothly. Make an appointment or, after 9 a.m., there’s no wait,” said Minsch. 

There are some new additions to this year’s fair. 

“From the hospital’s perspective, Homer Medical will be there with the providers somewhat focusing on vaccination and immunization protocols, helping particularly caregivers of young children learn about those,” said Ferraro. 

Hospital personnel also will be helping enroll people in its new patient portal.

“You can sign up at the fair, get your user name and password to be able to access your health records online,” said Ferraro. “Part of great health care is access to your information, so we’re really anxious to get people signed up.”

The hospital’s infection control educators also will be on hand.

“Each year in Alaska there are serious hospitalizations as a result of complications from flu and pneumonia,” said Ferraro. “If we can just prevent the flu and pneumonia from happening, then it wouldn’t lead to all those complications.”

More than 20 South Peninsula Hospital health care providers, not counting those doing blood draws, will be on hand at the fair, available to talk with the public. 

“This is a unique opportunity to visit with them and get your questions answered,” said Ferraro.

Making its first Rotary Health Fair appearance is a Food For Life exhibit that emphasizes plant-based cooking. Also new is the Alaska Kidney Foundation.

“We have a couple of people in Homer that are on the wait-list for kidneys,” said Minsch, also noting the return of Alaska Donor Services. “We actually have people in Homer that are waiting for organs. Sometimes we think it’s not something we can help out with when in fact it’s something that is.”  

Ryan Browning of the Homer Police Department will have fatal-vision goggles and a go-cart available indoors, so youngsters and adults can slip on the goggles and see how varying levels of alcohol consumption can impair driving ability.

Pancreatic cancer awareness is back this year, which is timely since Homer Mayor Beth Wythe proclaimed November as “Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month” at the Monday meeting of the Homer City Council. 

Also timely are the 200 free flu shots available for people between the ages of 18 and 64, provided through a Seldovia Village Tribe and Rotary partnership.

Representatives from Recreate Rec will be available to discuss the needs assessment study currently underway. 

A representative from the Veterans Administration will answer benefit questions. Counselors from SVT will be on hand to address questions about Medicare and the Affordable Care Act. Participating Homer Medical staff will answer questions about pediatric wellness, including vaccination schedules. New-to-town Rolfer Don Keller will explain the service he provides that combines Rolfing and laser therapy for pain relief. Consumer Direct personnel will provide information for at-home care. 

What fair is complete without entertainment? Beginning at 9:30 a.m., the Rotary Health Fair has scheduled the Seaside Singers, Zumba, tai chi, the girls’ running club, yoga and the Homer Ukulele Group at half-hour intervals.

Representatives from ReCreate Rec will explain the needs assessment process it has undertaken and the public survey to help with that process.

“The fair is good opportunity to talk with a large number of people and encourage them to participate,’ said Minsch, referring specifically to ReCreate Rec’s needs assessment.

Minsch’s comment also could apply to the fair, now in its 31st year. While the one-day event’s motto — “It’s your life … Take a day to be well.” — has a single-day focus, the fair’s increasing popularity reflects a widespread interest in keeping it around.

“We talk to people all over the country, the state and nobody has anything like this,’ said Minsch, who lists three reasons why the fair has had such long-standing success.

The low-cost blood tests are one reason the fair has continued to grow over the years. Hard-working volunteers that make the fair happen are another reason.

“The fact that my club has 50 members that are willing to devote the time and energy to put this on is a huge effort. We work on it all year long,” said Minsch. 

Finally, there’s the “community response. We have an event that provides low-cost blood tests to 1,000 people in a town of 5,000. That’s pretty incredible. It really takes everybody,” said Minsch.

The fair isn’t all about adults. An Early Childhood Wellness Fair is part of the day’s activities. Free childcare also is provided for parents wanting to visit the exhibits and discuss wellness-related questions with the many medical professionals and vendors available.

To register for blood pre-draws to be done at the hospital and draws to be done at the fair, visit sphosp.org or call the Health Fair hotline at 399-3158. 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.

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