Hmong doctors and nurses host first of its kind free Hmong Health Fair in St. Paul

portrait of a man in a suit
Dr. David Thao, pictured at his practice, Woodbury Plastic Surgery, in 2020, is helping organize the free 2024 Hmong Health Fair. He is chair of the Hmong Medical Association.
Courtesy of Sahan Journal

This story comes to you from Sahan Journal through a partnership with MPR News.

A free health clinic geared toward the Hmong community is scheduled for this Saturday in St. Paul. Organizers say they believe it’s the first of its kind in the nation.

Any member of the public can get their blood pressure and blood sugar checked for free at the Hmong Health Fair, which will run from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the Hmong Community School of Excellence, located at 270 Larpenteur Avenue West. The fair is targeting the Hmong community, but is open to all others. 

The Hmong Medical Association and the Hmong Nurses Association are sponsoring the health fair, which will have more than 70 volunteers on hand. The volunteers include doctors, nurses, medical students, and volunteers from across the community.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The fair’s purpose is to “empower the community to take charge of their health,” said Dr. David Thao, a plastic surgeon in Woodbury who serves as chair of the Hmong Medical Association.

“This is the first time Hmong doctors and nurses are coming together to improve the health of our community,” said Thao, who is also co-chair of the Hmong Health Fair. “This is sort of like a visit to the clinic. You meet the doctors, you meet the nurses, and this is the team.”

The doctors and nurses will conduct the blood pressure and blood sugar tests. Attendees will receive their test results confidentially at the fair, and if their levels are higher than recommended, they can visit with medical professionals at the fair who will explain what the numbers mean. Providers won’t treat patients on site, but will give them recommendations about what medical care they should seek out.

Attendees can stop by one of many booths with free information about topics like diabetes and hypertension, which Hmong community members are diagnosed with at higher rates than the general population. The fair will also feature booths on asthma, heart disease, and preventative care, as well as career and network opportunities for aspiring medical professionals.

“In a lot of communities, not just the Hmong community, there are so many health disparities that need to be addressed,” said Dr. Maisee Lor, a St. Cloud family medicine doctor who is in charge of the fair’s booths. “The health fair is trying to close that gap.” 

The event is open to all ages, but is making concerted efforts to reach the elderly Hmong population. That’s because they are more likely to experience these health conditions and often face barriers to good care, Thao said. 

Those barriers can include missing information due to incomplete translations, and patients feeling uncomfortable with sharing their medical issues and questions with doctors.

“The elders often tend to avoid going to the doctor’s office unless something is wrong,” said Shelia Vang, a registered nurse who is co-chair of the fair and president of the Twin Cities chapter of the Hmong Nurses Association. “We want to promote health screening and preventative measures.”

Thao said the presence of Hmong medical providers at the fair may make elders feel more comfortable in a medical setting. 

“There’s a lot of trust issues,” Thao said. “This is a way for us to say, ‘Hey, we’re here for you. We understand you. We speak the language. We are your children, in a way.’” 

The event will also feature the St. Paul Fire Department, which will provide fire safety tips in response to a fire earlier this year that killed four Hmong children

Thao and other organizers hope to hold Hmong health fairs in other states, like California and Wisconsin, that also have large Hmong populations. The Hmong Medical Association also hopes to organize a medical mission in Laos next year.

How to attend the 2024 Hmong Health Fair

  • When: Saturday, April 20, 9:00 a.m. — 3:00 p.m.

  • Where: Hmong Community School of Excellence, 270 Larpenteur Ave. W., St. Paul, MN 55113

  • Cost: Free

For more information: Click here to visit the Hmong Health Fair Facebook page.