New partnership with Canyon Ranch, Berkshire Health Systems aims to improve health of the underserved


PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Health Systems and the Canyon Ranch Institute on Wednesday announced their partnership to increase the health and wellness of low-income and medically underserved residents in the county.

In the new initiative, scheduled to launch in September, personnel from BHS will use the innovative health and wellness techniques established by the Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program to help participants in Berkshire County.

Participants in this program elsewhere have shown a 56 percent reduction in depression, a 44 percent reduction in stress, and a 113 percent increase in exercise per week, according to statistics provided by the institute.

"We've gone into the communities with the worst health metrics and proven that the concept can work," said Richard H. Carmona, the president of Canyon Ranch's board of directors, who served as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service from 2002-06.

Citing data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, BHS CEO David Phelps said Berkshire County ranks 11th among the state's 14 counties in the growth of wellness initiatives.

"This will help promote wellness in Berkshire County," Phelps said.

The program is designed for low-income and medically underserved populations, and participants will be selected from patients who access services at BHS' many facilities.

Founded in 2002, the Canyon Ranch Institute is a nonprofit organization associated with Canyon Ranch Resort, which operates facilities in both Lenox and Arizona. The Lenox resort opened in 1989.

Unlike traditional medical and health care programs, the Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program is a 40-hour program that offers participants a varied approach to fitness and stress management activities, food preparation demonstrations, grocery shopping trips, and individual planning sessions designed for the participants to set health-related goals intended to prevent, diagnose and address chronic diseases.

The Canyon Ranch Institute's program partners with other nonprofits, like BHS, to make its pioneering health care techniques available to the community at large and not just those visiting the resorts. This is the 17th partnership that CRI has formed with another nonprofit organization since those initiatives began in the Bronx, N.Y., in 2009. It is the most comprehensive to date, said CRI executive director Jennifer Cabe.

BHS, the county's largest employer, is investing $500,000 in funding and support for professional staff time associated with the new health care initiative. Seventeen BHS employees, ranging from executives to physicians to dietitians and psychologists, are scheduled to participate in it, said BHS Senior Vice President Ruth Blodgett.

Staff training has already begun and will continue throughout the summer.

"We started out Life Enhancement Program in a federally qualified health center so everybody there was below the poverty level," Carmona said. "Here we will work with the community to assess where are those greatest risks.

"We're happy to bring the intellectual property," he said. "But we don't know the culture and the people that are here."

Those selected to participate will undergo 12 three-hour group classroom sessions, each focusing on a different activity. The program also includes a rigorous evaluation protocol in which data is collected from each participant at different times of the program.

According to Carmona, 18 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product is currently spent on health care, a figure that he said could rise to 23 percent over the next decade.

"The cost is astronomical," Carmona said. "That's why these programs are so important. The government can't solve the problem. This has to be solved by us."

In an interview with The Eagle following the conclusion of the Wednesday's news conference, Carmona said the Affordable Health Care for America Act, which will requires most U.S. citizens and legal residents to have health care coverage, won't solve all of the country's health care problems. But he believes the AHCA will provide an infrastructure that will expose millions of people to healthy living.

He also believes the AHCA won't reduce health care costs, unless the "appropriate prevention strategies are there."

"Otherwise you just end up having a different vehicle to end up paying for people who get sick," he said.


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