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Healthcare takes center stage at St. Patrick's event

It had all the trappings of a festive fair but the purpose of Sunday's event at St. Patrick's Catholic Church was to have multitudes of healthy people. Building on this spirit of wellness were a veritable congregation of health providers, social service workers and emergency responders.

About 55 agencies were represented at St. Pat's eighth annual Health and Safety Fair and about 1,500 people took advantage of the morning-long program in the church's packed Parish Center.

Pat Calzadillas, health fair coordinator, called Sunday's program very successful, adding some "really valuable information" was imparted to those stopping by.

In a couple of cases, what was learned could be a lifesaving experience.

Nicole Urena was volunteering with Merced County Villa Health Services, doing blood pressure tests. One individual's blood pressure was so high he was advised to see his doctor right away and quite a few people had elevated readings they weren't aware of before.

Urena and her friend, Adela Lopez, are church volunteers and helped with Spanish language translation and said they enjoy helping people.

Calzadillas said it takes six months to prepare for the health fair and one physician said this is public health at its best. The health fair's goal is to promote family wellness at all ages and expose the community to a vast array of available services.

In other instances, health screeners alerted fair attendees their blood-sugar readings were elevated, Calzadillas said, and others learned their bone-density levels needed improvement.

Calzadillas said the health fair has gotten progressively bigger over the last five years. Merced's police and fire departments, and the Merced County Sheriff's Department had displays for parishioners attending the three Masses Sunday morning at the church.

Dr. Michelle Brinkop works with UC Merced's Student Health Center and was promoting exercise and good nutrition along with bone health. She was giving out information about calcium and osteoporosis and coordinating the children's program. About 450 health questionnaires were given out to Our Lady of Mercy School students who had to visit health professionals' booths to find the answers to questions, for extra academic credit.

"It's great; kids really enjoy it and we have great participation from parents and their kids," Brinkop said.

Sgt. Vern Warnke of the Merced County Sheriff's Department and a number of officers manned the department's mobile command post, armored Special Weapons and Tactics vehicle, dive-rescue and technical support vehicles. The department's robot greeted health fair visitors, even shaking a few hands.

The Merced Police Department had children's fingerprinting and a bicycle safety rodeo; Riggs Ambulance Service personnel also showed off the specialized equipment emergency responders use every day.

Health issues represented included disaster response agencies, massage therapists, blood-glucose screening and diabetes screening, hospice, cancer support, addiction recovery, physical fitness, adult day care, dental care, eating disorders, breastfeeding, child safety, infant car seats, tobacco use prevention, and various senior services.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger

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