9Health Fair can be eye-opening

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

Health-care costs continue to soar, but the annual 9Health Fair is a bargain, says a nurse practitioner who has volunteered her services to the program since it began in 1980.

Durango’s annual fair is 7 a.m. to noon Saturday at Escalante Middle School.

Karen Zink estimates that $250,000 worth of tests and screenings are provided in Durango alone. Cortez, Mancos, Silverton, Pagosa Springs, Ignacio and Telluride have their own 9Health Fair.

“I’d say 80 to 85 percent of people who come to the fair are pretty healthy or manage their health,” Zink said. “The other 15 percent don’t know if they have a problem, but there’s a good chance they can find out.

“We’ve diagnosed a lot of problems over the years,” Zink said. “We’ve discovered diabetes, heart disease, calcium abnormalities and thyroid problems.

Carmen Ritz, manager of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and wellness at Mercy Regional Medical Center, recruits the 200 medical and nonmedical volunteers required to staff the fair.

“It’s truly a community service and can be the equivalent of an annual medical exam if someone takes advantage of all the screening,” Ritz said.

The 9Health Fair arose from the National Health Screening Council for Volunteer Organizations founded by Dr. John Brensike, who was doing heart disease research at the National Institutes of Health in Washington.

Brensike was welcomed in Colorado where the Lions Club of Colorado, Colorado National Guard and hundreds of medical and nonmedical volunteers gave him support. The same groups form the backbone of the program today.

Zink was punching in for her shift as a registered nurse at Community Hospital in 1980 when she noticed a note asking for health-fair volunteers.

“I drew blood for years, then coordinated the lab,” she said. “I became the medical coordinator for the fair, and now I float around to see that everything runs smoothly and dispense praise and appreciation.

“I volunteer because I care about the community,” Zink said. “I sit on boards on state-level issues, but I love having a direct impact on the community.”

The fair is a good way for people to take responsibility for their health, Zink said.

The basic blood-chemistry screening can point to areas of concern. Specific tests focus on hemoglobin, colon cancer, blood-cell count and vitamin D, which Zink called “the captain of the defense team.”

Fairgoers also can check vision, hearing and pulmonary function. They can discover the condition of prostate, testicles and breasts.

They can answer a questionnaire to indicate if they’re under stress.

Zink estimated that 500 of the 1,200 people who visit the fair annually are older than 55.

Seniors can get the basic blood screening Friday at the La Plata County Fairgrounds to avoid standing in line Saturday.


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