Healthy Peninsula Awarded Grant to Promote Healthy Aging

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The Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF) has announced the award of eight ‘Thriving in Place’ (TiP) grants across the state, with Healthy Peninsula one of two grantees in Hancock County. The grants aim to promote better patient-centered care that will help people with chronic conditions to be healthier and safer in their homes.

“The successful project proposals were ones that will use a variety of tested and creative strategies to tackle the expensive over-reliance on hospitals and assisted living facilities to care for older and disabled people with chronic health conditions,” said Dr. Becky Hayes Boober, the MeHAF Senior Program Officer who is overseeing the TiP program.

Healthy Peninsula’s proposal, ‘Thriving Downeast’, is centered around a partnership of ten local and regional organizations that already provide a broad cross-section of health and social services: Blue Hill Memorial Hospital (BHMH), Eastern Maine Health Systems (EMHS), Hancock County HomeCare and Hospice, Hospice Volunteers of Hancock County, Coastal Care Team, Atlantic Mental Health Center, Eastern Area Agency on Aging, Penobscot Bay Press, Washington Hancock Community Agency (WHCA) and its programs At Home Down East and Friendship Cottage.

Healthy Peninsula’s role within Thriving Downeast will be to assess the needs of individuals living on the Blue Hill peninsula, Deer Isle and Stonington and help to ‘knit together’ available medical, behavioral, social, and community services to strengthen support and care for those at highest risk. Critical to the success of this project is to hear from the people who will benefit most: their voices are often not heard in discussions about the challenges they face and the services they need.

“As the state with the oldest population and one of the highest rates of disability in the nation, there’s a pressing need to plan now for strategies that can help people, particularly those who are older, stay healthy and receive needed care and support at home,” said Dr. Wendy Wolf, President and CEO of MeHAF. “It’s no surprise that older and disabled Mainers overwhelmingly say that they want to remain in their homes and communities; yet our current resources are not up to the task of meeting their expectations,” explained Dr. Wolf. “Through the Thriving in Place initiative, organizations will work together with local residents to determine how we can keep people out of the hospital or nursing home so they can stay in their community.”

The current MeHAF award is a one-year planning grant with the possibility of a second award to implement the partnership work plan over three years. The TiP grant is a kickstart to Healthy Peninsula’s new Healthy Aging Initiative and an exciting opportunity to partner with dedicated and experienced organizations across the region. Healthy Peninsula is a program of Child and Family Opportunities, Inc., and partners with BHMH and EMHS to promote health in western Hancock County.

For additional information, please contact Healthy Peninsula at 374-3257 or info@healthypeninsula.org.

Preschool – The Most Important Grade?

On Saturday, April 5th, Blue Hill residents will have the opportunity to vote to provide the financial support for a public preschool program at the Consolidated School. Although three quarters of all children participate in preschool programs nationwide, many people are unsure about how to measure the cost and benefits, particularly of public preschool programs that are funded by taxpayer dollars.

According to the Maine Department of Education, there are currently more than 200 approved public preschool programs serving thousands of four year-old children, between 30-40 percent, throughout the state. Several neighboring schools already have preschool programs; Brooklin, Penobscot, and Castine offer public preschool programs in coordination with Kindergarten classes, while Sedgwick hosts the Peninsula Early Childhood Education Center in collaboration with Child and Family Opportunities (Head Start). Brooksville has offered a preschool program for twenty years, transitioning to a public preschool program five years ago.

Experienced Brooksville teacher Corinne Pert states, “We’ve had that program, which is three full days per week, transportation provided, meals available through school lunch, for five years. We use the standards of the Maine Early Childhood Learning Guidelines as a basis for curriculum. It is a great opportunity to introduce school as a place to love learning together as a community, and help children learn the skills they will need to fully access learning in the public school setting. I call us the Executive Functioning experts!”
What are Executive Functions? In his new book, ‘How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character’, Paul Tough writes that recent research is focusing on Executive Functions, the ‘air traffic control center of the brain’. Executive Function qualities include creativity, perseverance, and perhaps most important, flexibility and self-control. Children need flexibility to think creatively to find new solutions to problems. Self-control helps them to regulate their emotional responses and behaviors, and to help them avoid making bad choices. Other researchers add the ability to direct attention (focus) as a key skill in the Executive Functions toolkit in our brains. It is now believed that Executive Functions are more important for school readiness than Intelligence Quotient (IQ).
Della Martin, BHCS principal, agrees. “The BHCS program will holistically address the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual development of the children to prepare them for success in kindergarten and in their future school years. The greatest focus will be on the integration of developmentally appropriate play, discovery, music, early literacy and numeracy skills, and social skills.”

Recent research has shown that preschool education is a sound investment—academically, socially, and economically. Several studies provide comprehensive evidence that academic and other advantages from preschool education show economic benefits that far outweigh the costs of high-quality preschool programs. By fifth grade, students who received one year of high-quality public preschool were less likely to be held back or placed in special education, and, as they aged, had higher graduation rates and reduced arrest rates.

Contrary to popular belief, school readiness is not just a problem of the poor. Young middle-income children can also lag behind in social and cognitive skills. High-quality preschool has been found to benefit both low-income and middle-income children, and these added benefits could far exceed costs. Public preschool programs, like the one proposed at BHCS, are open to all children regardless of family income, and therefore benefit all children who attend.

Preschool works. But is it worth the cost? Studies of the savings from high-quality early learning demonstrate that the answer is yes. Graduates of such programs are less likely to commit crimes or rely on food stamps and cash assistance; they have greater lifetime earnings, creating increased tax revenue. Although the range of savings varies across studies, the studies consistently find robust returns to taxpayers.

Here’s what you can do! Attend the next Pre-K meeting on Monday, March 31st at the BHCS Library, educate yourself about these important issues, attend the Blue Hill Town Meeting on April 5th and support early education in your community.
Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital. Sandra Phoenix is a family nurse practitioner, a member of the HP Advisory Board, and co-chair of the Early Childhood Initiative.

The Healthy Heart

by Dennis DeSilvey, MD

It is challenging to contemplate whether I should talk about the healthy heart or use the more inclusive term of heart health. I like that latter term because it speaks to the whole person and what an individual can do for the whole person to have heart health and, thereby, a healthy heart. The science of “wellness” continues to develop and in recent years we have learned a great deal about what you can do to enjoy good health.

What is good health? I would offer that it is not just physical health but includes mental, social, and spiritual health.  Mental health refers to the way a person handles stress and life’s stressors.  Some people become overwhelmed by stress and are incapable of dealing with it in a productive manner.  I will discuss this concept in greater detail but first I would like to dispel some of the myths about living a healthy lifestyle. That is what ultimately makes for a healthy heart.

The first myth is that you need to follow a certain diet to achieve heart health.  None of the popular diets (e.g. Atkins, South Beach, the Zone, etc.) are marketed as a “dietary pattern” and that is what each of us should be aspiring to follow.  Fad diets are usually a six week program and then reality hits — that it is not a sustainable long term solution and we go back to our former ways. The answer: eat healthy by including plenty of fruits and vegetables, limiting red meat, avoiding processed and high sugar foods, and eat locally grown food as much as you can. I recommend Michael Polan’s book, Food Rules.  It is simple, straight forward, and no need for complicated dietary formulas.

The next myth is that you need to generate enormous amounts of pain and go to the gym seven days a week in order to get fit.  Walking is the best exercise.  The truth is that just being active during the day is an essential component to a good exercise program.  Start with simple forms of exercise: use the stairs, park away from the door where you are going, and go for a walk as much as you can.

At this point someone may ask where is the comment about smoking? That is a “no brainer.” Smoking is the most dangerous acquired behavior known to man.  The list of diseases that happen to smokers continues to grow. I will do anything I can do to help patients stop smoking. Tobacco users need to understand why they smoke; is it to relive stress, not gain weight, or enjoy one’s coffee? None of the reasons offered justify the continuation of a destructive and socially costly habit.

I started this article with a comment about stress and I would be remiss not to finish with a suggestion. Stress is part of life and how we handle it is important. I spent 40 years in the Army Reserves and we would teach troops about how to make stress energizing. This is a very important concept and one worth exploring. If you are overwhelmed by stress, the stress will win. If you use the stress to energize yourself to deal with the stressors in your life, the stress actually goes away because you are in control. This is what I try to convey to patients who feel overwhelmed by illness. If you take control of your life, to the extent that you can, then healing and wellness, and a healthy life will come much more quickly.

Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.  Dennis DeSilvey, MD lives in Sedgwick and is a cardiologist with Blue Hill Cardiovascular Medicine, a department of Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.

Dr. DeSilvey will be speaking at the Blue Hill Library on Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 4:30pm.

Blue Hill Poverty Conference Draws 145 Attendees

Conference attendees listen as Dr. Donna Beegle shares her story.

Conference attendees listen as Dr. Donna Beegle shares her story.

Food, shopping, education – typical conversation topics – took on new meaning as Dr. Donna Beegle wove them into her stories of personal generational poverty and her eventual path to success.

On October 19, the third annual Healthy Peninsula Early Childhood conference, The Poverty Hurdle: In Pursuit of Goals and Dreams for Every Family, Every Child, was held at the Blue Hill Consolidated School. The conference attendees included local and regional non-profit and service organization staff, educators, medical providers, state legislators, church group members, parents, and concerned citizens – all interested in learning more about the effects of poverty on children and their families.

In addition to Dr. Beegle, ‘local experts’ Rick Traub from the Tree of Life, Megan Granger, counselor at BHCS, and Barbara Royal from Open Door Recovery, also talked about the challenges that many of our neighbors face daily to secure enough food, transportation, home educational support, and access to medical and mental health services.

Break-out sessions generated ideas on how to create awareness and debunk the myths associated with poverty.

Break-out sessions generated ideas on how to create awareness and debunk the myths associated with poverty.

Conference break-out sessions provided attendees the opportunity to gather around areas of interest and to discuss resources, challenges and ‘next steps’ regarding poverty on the Blue Hill peninsula. Many ideas overlapped the three groups – increase awareness of the issues, mapping and integration of current resources including volunteer efforts, increase mentoring and networking opportunities, and work together within our communities for all families.

The Blue Hill conference was one of three regional conferences with Dr. Beegle from Oct. 17-19. Healthy Peninsula, under the auspices of its Early Childhood Initiative, is already exploring further collaboration with local organizations and groups in Dover-Foxcroft and Machias to develop community trainings and mentoring opportunities for those interested in the issues of poverty.

Healthy Peninsula is partnering with Blue Hill Memorial Hospital, Eastern Maine Medical Systems, local schools, local and regional foundations, and community supporters to continue this work. For more information, call Healthy Peninsula at 374-3257.

Written by Sandra Phoenix

Healthy aging in Maine

by Doug Cowan, MD

Have you heard of the Gray Tsunami? It’s just over the horizon! Our elderly population will bring tremendous demographic and economic challenges to our country, and particularly to Maine. We have the oldest average age of any state in the country and the next to lowest percentage of kids 5 to 18 years old. Now is the time to work together to plan for this future: 35 million over 65 in the U.S. in 2008, 85 million by 2030, more than 1 million over 100 by 2050.

How can aging Mainers stay healthy? That’s up to all of us, working together. Blue Hill Memorial Hospital and Eastern Maine Health Systems are transitioning to a new financial and medical model of payment for keeping us healthy, not payment for just visits, tests, and procedures. Since research shows that 80 percent of health happens in our homes and communities, and only 20 percent happens in medical facilities, our hospitals and primary care practices are focusing more attention on preventing problems before they occur or get worse. It’s also less expensive than treating us when we get sick. So here’s the challenge: rather than each of our hospitals, doctors, nurses, regional agencies, local community health groups, neighborhood groups, and family members working in isolation, we all need to work together, each doing what we do best, supporting each other and creating a stronger community of caregivers and support at all levels.

That’s where Healthy Peninsula comes in: our specialty is bringing diverse groups and voices together to work collaboratively to create better outcomes that last. We were the seed for Sedgwick Head Start, Friendship Cottage in Blue Hill, and Ready by 21 on Deer Isle, all successful with Healthy Peninsula helping to develop community ownership of each project. The same model can work with our new Healthy Aging Initiative.Aging individuals need three circles of support: the healthcare system, home service providers, and community support. Much of these three are already in place. What’s missing is working together.

One initiative is just beginning to take shape to help fuse the first two circles: 10 local health and community service organizations are contemplating coming together to learn how we might better support each other, and work more collaboratively to improve the future care for our elderly and disabled, many now absent from the conversation. Each is doing important work supporting healthy aging on our peninsula, but we don’t connect with each other nearly enough. How can we help each other? How can we stretch our resources further by working more effectively together?

Community support is the third circle and is a key component that deserves more recognition and integration into the first two. If you are “connected” in your town, you know how many individuals, neighborhood circles, and church and Grange groups provide important support for our elderly. Think how much more effective that could be if it were networked into the healthcare and home service networks. Consider the potential of a community “early warning system” that could connect a failing elderly neighbor to needed services early on, not in the emergency department. Or supplemental community caregivers for an individual, recently discharged from the hospital, working with the medical team and home service agencies to keep her healthy and prevent unnecessary readmissions.

Because we care about each other in our towns, Healthy Peninsula will continue to explore ways to move forward with our Healthy Aging Initiative. So stay tuned, climb on board, and together we’ll make it happen!

Your Health Matters is a monthly health column by Healthy Peninsula and the Blue Hill Memorial Hospital.  Doug Cowan, MD lives in Brooksville and is a member of the Healthy Peninsula Advisory Board.