Graceful Health: Good health is a good resolution

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What's your New Year's resolution? I hope it includes taking steps to improve your health. Making a resolution to eat better, get regular exercise, quit smoking, or lose weight can happen on any day, but the New Year is an especially appropriate time for a fresh start.

As CEO of Grace Cottage Hospital, when I contemplate ways to improve health, I'm thinking not just about myself, but about the population in general. We all know that the rising cost of health care is a strain on our budgets, as individuals, and as a nation. Getting healthy and staying healthy is always the wisest course, for both quality of life and financial security.

These days, I spend a lot of time reading about "population health." Medical researchers and policy makers use this buzz phrase to emphasize the importance of taking a broader view. They look at the many factors that have the most impact on the overall health of a population, and they study which approaches are most effective for improving health.

Sometimes population health researchers take a look at all of the people living in a particular area and consider their local resources — jobs and education, as well as doctors and hospitals nearby — that affect people in that region. Sometimes the researchers focus on a subset of the population, such as smokers, or people with a chronic disease like diabetes, and study whether the appropriate resources exist to help with that challenge.

No matter what else these researchers discover, two themes always rise to the surface: the importance of having a network of health care resources, and the vital importance of primary and preventive care. Over and over, studies have proven that the cost of staying healthy is much less than that of treating a disease once it is chronic or has become a crisis.

"Coverage isn't only important when you are sick, it's helpful when you don't feel sick." These words are at the beginning of the federal government's introduction to the Affordable Care Act (see www.hhs.gov/healthcare/coverage-to-care). The ACA, a federal statute signed into law in 2010, assures greater access to health insurance for Americans and stresses primary and preventive care by providing certain health screenings, tests, and advice free of charge. These tests aim to prevent illnesses, disease, and other health problems, or to detect them at an early stage when treatment is most likely to work.

Among the screenings that are generally covered free of charge by the ACA are those for high blood pressure, cholesterol, colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, breast and cervical cancer, a range of health concerns for women who are pregnant, and tests for autism and lead exposure in children. A complete list, and the details of the coverage, are available from every health insurance company.

The take-away message is that preventive care is the best thing you can do for your own health and for the health of your family. Which brings me back to New Year's resolutions.

Grace Cottage cares for the community in sickness and in health. We offer a whole range of preventive care and wellness services. You may already know that Grace Cottage Family Health, our Rural Health Clinic, has a number of excellent medical providers, including those who specialize in caring for children, seniors, and those with mental health challenges. In 2016, we are also offering integrative options like acupuncture and osteopathic medicine, and we hope to add a naturopath to our staff in the not-too-distant future.

Our network of providers also includes a Community Health Team (CHT) that offers free diabetes education, short-term counseling, nutrition and exercise coaching, and assistance in applying for health insurance and social services. Thanks to a grant from the Fanny Holt Ames and Edna Louise Holt Fund, the services of the Grace Cottage CHT will expand in 2016. To be clear, you don't need insurance to take advantage of these valuable free services, and you don't need to be a Grace Cottage Family Health patient. Our CHT Care Coordinators are here to assist you in determining what services would be best-suited for you.

Beyond that, we have an array of low-cost and free wellness classes to help you keep your New Year's goals. These include smoking cessation classes, Strong Bones, yoga, tai chi, meditation, and others.

If you live in the West River Valley, you don't have to drive all the way to Brattleboro to see a doctor, to take a wellness class, or to get someone to help you with your weight-loss goals. Grace Cottage has been caring for this community for over 65 years, and we still do it the old-fashioned way, by building relationships, one provider and one patient at a time.

While Grace Cottage focuses on primary care and rehabilitative therapy, the hospital also has an Emergency Department open all day and night, every day, for acute situations. The hospital also provides exceptional physical, occupational and speech therapy. We are well-connected with other health care facilities. Those who need a higher level of care we refer them to specialists, and for those with life-threatening situations, we can quickly stabilize them at Grace Cottage, and then transfer them by ambulance or helicopter.

Working together is important when it comes to improving our community's health. You are part of that equation. We offer you excellent care and support, but it's up to you to take the first step.

What's your New Year's resolution? I hope it includes action steps to improve your health.

Roger Allbee is CEO of Grace Cottage and has been a patient there through much of his life (in fact, he and his twin brother were delivered by the hospital's founder, Dr. Carlos G. Otis). Allbee has served as Vermont's Secretary of Agriculture, Food, and Markets and as Vermont's Executive Director of the USDA Farm Service Agency.


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