The Herald Bulletin

March 27, 2011

Lifestyle choices lead to maladies

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — A recent county-wide health study shows that the majority of Madison County maladies are caused by lifestyle choices. While patients are quick to complain of rising health costs, they are in sole control of the behaviors that are the root of many issues.

“The things we see in our county are related to smoking and significant obesity, which leads to diabetes, which, if not well controlled, leads to hypertension,” said Bill VanNess, president and CEO of Community Hospital Anderson. “Those are lifestyle choices. When you look nationally at the numbers, 40 percent of health care costs are related to lifestyle choices, 10 percent are related to hospitals and physicians, 30 percent to genetics, and 20 percent is public health – water, sewage, those kinds of things.”

Seeing that the health of residents is so affected by their own behavior, the local hospitals are broadening their scope to include more preventative measures rather than waiting to encounter emergency situations.

“The real opportunity to improve health in our county, as well as any other, centers around keeping people healthy, which has not typically been a hospital’s role,” said Gary Brazel, Saint John’s chief medical officer. “But we are doing more and more. We are in cooperation with the YMCA, assisted the city in keeping the South Side Pool open last year, and we work with the American Cancer Society. We need to get people to address the behavioral aspects of patients here. That may not be flashy, but it is where we need to focus.”

“As hospitals, we really are in the sickness business because we take care of you when you get very sick or when you need a major procedure,” agreed VanNess. “We are typically not set up to be in the wellness business, but we’ve tried to begin to promote more wellness and tried to help our community stay healthier.”

Mentioning the Pregnancy Plus Program that was begun in 1985, he cited the reduced rate of emergency birthing situations that routinely arose due to the lack of prenatal care.

“We saw a real need in the county of women that were uninsured or underinsured that weren’t getting prenatal care,” he continued. “They were coming into our emergency rooms and delivering way too early with very small babies that needed to be transferred in an urgent manner to Riley. So we took on that challenge and started providing care to those women through our Pregnancy Plus Program. And we don’t have those disasters anymore.”

Now with obesity plaguing 33 percent of the Madison County population, Saint John’s has adopted a L.I.F.E. weight-loss program for obese children as well as a program for adults. In addition, they have taken the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital’s Project 18 program into schools to teach the importance of exercise and nutrition.

While lifestyle choices affect health, hospital personnel recognize that recent years have deeply changed the financial health of the community, compounding the problem.

“The economic health of the community affects their physical health,” said Deborah Rasper, administrator of Saint Vincent Mercy Hospital Elwood. “That’s more our day-to-day care and is even causing some increase in behavioral health issues. People do not have the income available to them to make the wise choices or get the health care they need.”

All three hospitals are reaching out to aid individuals who can’t afford health care. From free or reduced-price screenings to aiding with the maze of applying for government assistance, hospitals are extending their services.

“Access to primary care and primary care physicians is a success story,” said Tom VanOsdol, president of Saint John’s Health System. “We have three health access workers whose sole purpose is to identify people without insurance or who have difficulty paying for health care and connect them with available sources of public assistance with which they are eligible. They help patients connect with a medical home so they can get the right care in the right place at the right time.”

No matter how many services hospitals offer, a patient’s health is often in their own hands.

“From a hospital standpoint, so much of the expense is really under the individual’s control, not the hospital’s control,” said VanNess. “That’s the frustrating thing for physicians. They can tell somebody all the right things to do, but (patients) don’t always heed the advice.”