By Ann Marie Radford

On Sept. 30, more than 50 community organizations focused on health will come together at the Mark Twain Medical Center campus in San Andreas to offer their expertise and support to residents at the 19th annual health fair sponsored by Mark Twain Health Care District and the Mark Twain Medical Center.

This event - from 7 a.m. to noon - is one I’m most proud of as a member of the Mark Twain Health Care District Board, and as a veteran family nurse practitioner. I believe the health fair shows our great strength as a community to collaborate and care for one another’s health and well-being.

At the health fair, we will provide free flu shots, one of the easiest and best ways to prevent illness from spreading in our community and to protect the health of yourself and loved ones. Residents can also take advantage of low-cost health screenings, such as a five-panel blood analysis, including a chemistry panel, thyroid, complete blood count, lipid panel, iron for women, prostate-specific antigen for men, and vitamin D deficiencies ($45), and bone density screenings ($20). Those participating in blood analysis work need to fast starting at 10 p.m. Friday before the fair.

Perhaps one of the most important opportunities at the health fair is access to the many health experts on hand and residents being able to ask questions about their own health or the health of a loved one.

Over my nearly 20-year career as a nurse, I’ve worked in a variety of health settings from emergency rooms to family clinics to public health organizations, and most recently as a family nurse practitioner at the Mark Twain Medical Center. No matter the setting, situation or age of my patient, the part of my job I enjoy most is sincerely and warmly connecting with people. As I take their blood pressure, measure their height and do routine health screenings, it often provides an opportunity to talk about the health concerns that were keeping patients up at night but didn’t seem to rise to the occasion of making an appointment with their doctors.

A mother might open up about how her normally social teenage daughter suddenly stopped eating and seems reclusive. A senior might admit he had lost his appetite since his spouse passed away but he doesn’t consider it a health issue. A 40-year-old man might acknowledge he’s had chest pains but writes it off to stress at work. A 63-year-old woman in for her own check-up expresses that she is worn down from caring for her elderly mother with dementia.

All these seemingly small but important revelations can be indicators that further health and wellness checkups and screenings are warranted, or that referrals to specialists might be needed. Our community health fair can be the safe, welcoming place to have these conversations, ask questions and find resources on topics such as senior health services, mental health support, navigating health insurance and understanding long-term and short-term care options for yourself or loved ones.

At the Mark Twain Health Care District, our mission is to ensure we all have access to quality health care that allows residents to live and work in our special community. Stop by our District’s booth at the fair and learn more about our work and meet our board members.

I believe the upcoming health fair is an important part of fulfilling our mission to the community, and I hope you’ll join us at the fair on September 30.

Ann Marie Radford is on the Board of the Mark Twain Health Care District, a Family Nurse Practitioner at the Mark Twain Medical Center Clinics and member of the California Association of Nurse Practitioners.