As leaders of large Vermont health care organizations, we are tasked with the need to treat the sick and the infirm, to do so efficiently and to provide high quality care. We accept that. But we need partners, and with those partners, we need to change the perception of public health being about sickness to public health being about wellness.
Long term, there is no other way to provide quality care – at affordable costs – to all in need. This understanding has to be embraced as a state and acted upon if we are to make suitable progress toward Vermont being not only a healthy state, but a prosperous one. Wellness is as much an economic development tool as affordability; in fact, it’s the twin side of the same coin. Here is what’s encouraging: The structure of that sought-after partnership is already in place. It’s called RiseVT. It’s a community collaborative that has been in development for four years and implemented for the past two years in northwestern Vermont.
It’s an empirically-based collaborative that focuses on results that can be measured and built upon. A key partner for RiseVT has been the France-based EPODE (Ensemble Prévenons l’ObésitéDes Enfants), which has spread to 29 nations with a proven record of driving down childhood obesity rates. This coming school year, that partnership will be on display as over 2,000 preK-middle school students from Franklin and Grand Isle counties, in collaboration with the health department, collect one simple measure (BMI), to gauge improvement as RiseVT pursues its healthy lifestyles initiative.
Can you imagine the value of partnerships that would extend this data-based effort throughout all of Vermont?
That’s the objective. Wellness – or public health – is something that has to be embraced at individual and community levels. It has to be promoted in specific settings, like schools, workplaces, residential areas, state and local government and, yes, hospitals. It has to be built into all policies if the eventual outcome – fewer people with chronic illnesses and the delayed onset of illness – is to be achieved. This is the only way to truly bend the cost curve for delivering healthcare.
Vermont is in an enviable position to get this done.
Consider state government as one of RiseVT’s most important partners. The Agency of Human Services – with former Green Mountain Care Board chairman Al Gobeille at the helm – is the largest agency in state government and arguably in touch with more Vermonters in a healthcare-related way than any other organization, with the possible exception of the state’s 13 hospitals.
And Mr. Gobeille was RiseVT’s champion when it was brought before the board for funding. He gets it. He saw the need and the opportunity, and with the support of GMCB membership, he urged the wellness campaign to be pushed to all corners of the state.
The promotion of public health is more pertinent today than it’s ever been, partly because of the “triple burden of diseases,” meaning the ongoing battle against communicable diseases, newly emerging diseases and the unprecedented rise of noncommunicable chronic diseases. It’s not debatable. The adverse effects of sedentary lifestyles, poor nutrition, poverty, addiction and social and mental well-being are taking an increasing toll.
What’s essential is building enough trust in a wellness setting that individuals and communities are empowered to take actions to promote their own health. We want to get to a point where health is not the objective of living; rather, health is the resource for how we live our lives. Living healthy is the new norm. The difference is vast, and the opportunities that come with it, equally so.
To get there, we need partners. We need funding flexibility from the state as well as our private partners to put RiseVT in place for the greater good. It is a fraction of the pricetag we are spending now to treat disease. Pennies spent now will save countless dollars later. It is time to invest in this future.
That’s the RiseVT promise.
Eileen Whalen is president and COO of the University of Vermont Medical Center, Jill Berry Bowen is CEO of Northwestern Medical Center, Don George is CEO of Blue Cross/Blue Shield Vermont and Todd Moore is CEO of OneCare Vermont.