In Friday morning’s breakout session, “Well Communities: The science, policies and politics of health” moderator Rebecca Jones, M.D., saw lots of negatives with the medical system but adds there are a few ways that people can make changes.

The Brattleboro dermatologist said the current health-care system is not designed to keep people well and prevent illness but instead is designed to treat people once they are sick and to treat the worst possible explanation for the symptoms.

“Don’t come to me unless you are worried,” she said.

Jones said nobody can make another person healthy. Rather, she said the  system must provide opportunities for healthy living and healthy experience and convey knowledge allowing everyone to make health-producing livestyle decisions.

“We have to guarantee people’s right to pursue health,” she said.

Jones cited increasing number of new models for health care including those presented by the other members of the panel, including Jack Lyons, the president of Willing Hands and a professor at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H.; Richard Davis, the executive director of Vermont Citizens Campaign for Health in Guilford, Vt.; and Ken Meter, the director of Crossroads Resource Center in Minneapolis, Minn. All agreed the obesity epidemic is one of the major causes for illness in this country.

Davis expressed significant concerns about the health-care system. He has worked as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. He’s part of a pilot program in Vermont that is connecting a nurse-care coordinator, a health-care coach and a therapist with those struggling to maintain their health, usually those in lower income levels.

“You never know what kind of issues you’ll have,” he said. “They are not always health-care issues.”

He used the example of an illiterate man struggling to manage his diabetes because he could not read the labels, or a person struggling to maintain his weight because he didn’t own a scale. Davis said the existing model does not provide for treating these simple issues.

“When it comes to health care, money is the bottom line,” Davis said.

The reliance on healthy living is not something that we can rely on government to do for us, said Meter. Years ago, immigrant communities, especially the Germans and the Czechs, built community fitness centers that included community dinners and public dances.

“We’ve lost that,” Meter said. He said some of what needs to happen is a return to community health options. “One of the problems is we say schools have to do this, we need to have the hospital do that. It has to be part of the family dynamic.”

Lyons runs Willing Hands, which collects food that is about to thrown out by co-ops and other food providers to distribute to senior centers, community organizations and other places. He said one of the best parts of the program has been the tasting events when Willing Hands distributes the food and recipes.

“One of the toughest things to change is people’s eating habits,” said Lyons.


Caitlyn Kelleher