Saturday, January 19, 2013

Part III: Creating positive health outcomes for patients: Five Things Communities can do

Continuing with part III of the series on creating positive health outcomes for patients (Part I: Five Things Family/Friends Can Do and Part II: Five Things Patients Can Do Five Things Patients Can Do), this week’s post focuses on the role of the community. Loosely defined this can include civic groups (such as Rotaries, Lion’s Club); churches; schools; businesses, places of employment; social clubs, libraries etc.

Today, most people will develop some form of chronic disease, where they will spend 99% of their time in community, and live for many years with their condition. Since many will want to “age in place,” communities play a very important role in helping people stay independent. There are a number of things that can be done to help patients get the care they need and remain active and vital members of their community.

While four of the suggestions listed below can be implemented by any community group, it’s important to note some unique roles of certain organizations
• Libraries and librarians have a special role for their communities. Since this is where people often go for information or to use the computer, many patrons come to rely on their librarians for guidance and so turn to them, sometimes before family and friends. Libraries can best meet the needs of their community by having current and accurate health information both on-line and in print.

• Human Resource (HR) departments will be increasingly taxed with helping both the individual who has a serious illness as well as the employee who is the primary caregiver for an aging parent or a sick spouse or child. Not only having accurate information is key, but also forming community within the workplace to support these individuals. The first three items below provide specifics on how to organize and respond in these situations.

Of the five suggestions below, the first four can be done community wide or for individual groups for minimal costs. Recommendation number five suggests a collaborative approach among all aspects of community in order to create a healthy environment that promotes well-being.

1. Respond: Similar to the recommendation made for families/friends, it is important for communities to respond when someone is in need. Reading How to Respond When You Learn that Someone is Ill or Injured will assist in understanding the types of things that can helpful.

2. Provide current resource information on-line and in print: Whether it’s information about a specific condition, or where to go for help, having locations within a community that contain current and accurate condition specific information and resources is important.

With 80% or more of the adult population using the internet, information needs to be available to communities via the internet as well as in print. Things to consider:

• All communities have a variety of resources that can be of help. Unfortunately, many patients and those caring for them, are not aware of resources, and/or don’t know how to access them. Further, while hospitals, HR Depts.  and other organizations will have lists of the major  programs, a number of the things that local communities offer, such as what churches, rotaries etc. can provide, aren’t always included. In addition to making what is available known, consider adopting the Getting What You Need Checklist for your community. For an example of how this was done, check out the Cavendish VT edition. Organizing and maintaining resources would be a good community project for a civic group or school.

Make this information available on-line via various community websites and social networking sites-such as face book and blogs. Any organization, such as a library, that offers free internet access will want to have this information book marked so patrons can easily link to it.  In addition, create a print version and make it readily available via the library, churches, local government offices, community based organizations, human resource departments, civic groups etc. Keep it current.

• If your community group offers internet access, in addition to having a local version of the Getting What You Need Checklist, have website links with accurate health information available. Links to consider include:
-       Taking Charge of Your Health University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality & Healing and the Life Science Foundation 
-       Healing Whole  Resources for those affected by chronic conditions
-       Caregiver Resources 

• Health care rapidly changes, so even within a year, materials can be quickly outdated. If your organization has some form of library, it is important that you make sure information is current and up to date. On a yearly basis, check print materials for accuracy. Have someone with medical knowledge do this. Since condition specific organizations [e.g. American Cancer Society] offer free materials, contact these groups yearly for new material packets.

3. Organize support: There are a variety of ways to do this. Consider what is needed by an individual or a group of people, such as seniors, yet be realistic about what your organization can provide or do.

• Organize volunteers to respond to the various needs people might have: meals, driving to appointments; advocates; yard work; chores; childcare; dog walking; shopping; house cleaning; friendly visits etc. You can make this process a bit easier by creating a free Open Community Lotsa Helping Hands webpage.  Frequently used by churches and civic groups, this is an easy way to organize volunteer help.
• Organize volunteers to meet a specific need. Many groups have a focus, which might lend itself to meeting a need. Some examples,
-       A garden club may offer their services to do lawn care, gardening or even planting a vegetable gardening.
-       A CSA (Community Sustainable Agriculture) may volunteer to provide fresh and in season produce for families at no or reduced cost.
-       A computer store can offer assistance in helping families set up Lotsa Helping Hands pages, provide refurbished computers, and/or provide technical assistance.
-       Students can be organized for a special weekend to do spring-cleaning or fall preparedness. The local hardware store can provide tools and materials needed for such an activity, while a local restaurant can provide a boxed lunch for the volunteers.

• If you have the space, offer to let support groups meet there for free.

• Create a “loan closet,” where people can borrow free wheelchairs, walkers, canes and other items needed for short durations.

• In the event someone needs blood, a bone marrow transplant or a specialized surgery, organizing fundraisers, blood drivers and bone marrow registries can truly save a life.

4. Offer workshops and programs: There are a wide array of workshops and programs that community groups can run on their own, in conjunction with their local medical center, local chapter of a condition specific organization (e.g. American Heart Association), senior network, and/or as part of national initiatives. Programs that help people bond and form community can encourage healthy behaviors. Consider some of the following:
• Educational Seminars and trainings: Such topics could include:
  • -       Smoking cessation
  • -       Self advocacy
  • -       How to be a “friend with a pen,” advocating for someone else
  • -       Living wills/Advanced directives and other legal issues
  • -       Staying in Control: Preparing for life’s final chapter
  • -       Tips and help in hiring a personal care attendant/caregiver
  • -       Help in understanding Medicare, supplemental insurance and drug plans
  • -       How to keep a health notebook
  • -       Care giving
  • -       How to communicate more effectively
  • -       Resilience and personal empowerment
  • -       Aging in place
 • Activities that offer both social connections and physical activity can be very beneficial. Such activities may include:
  • -       Bone Builders: A community based program for osteoporosis prevention
  • -       Walking groups
  • -       Arts and Crafts
  • -       Communal eating, such as senior lunches or community dinners
  • -       Exercise programs, including yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong
  • -       Massage
  • -       Meditation
  • -       Dance classes
  • -       Community Garden
  • -       Game nights
  • -       Continuing education

5. Create a community where the healthy choice is the easy choice. The Blue Zones project was started in 2004 to identify and evaluate those places in the world where people lived measurably better and longer. This research has resulted in a new direction-creating communities for better longevity and well being. Instead of relying on an individual’s behavior change, the focus is creating communities where making the easy choice is also the healthy one. By making wholesome foods more prevalent and accessible and less expensive than junk foods, more people will begin to eat healthier naturally. We’ve identified the lifestyle and environmental characteristics in each of these Blue Zones and help American cities optimize their own communities for better longevity and well being. Learn more about how communities are incorporating the nine principles of the Blue zones.

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