Our Opinion: A healthier Berkshires


In measures of wellness initiatives, Berkshire County ranks 11th out of the 14 in the state. In general, what this says about us is ugly. We're sick when we should be well. We eat lousy. We're overweight. We're stressed. We smoke, we drink. We don't listen to our doctors. We make lifestyle choices now that take days, weeks and years off our lives. We are not in control of our abilities to lead healthy lifestyles because we really don't know how or what that looks like.

Let's face it, Berkshire County, we don't take care of ourselves like we ought to do. And what a toll -- financially, mentally, physically -- that has on us all.

That's why there's an overarching nobility and real vision in Berkshire Health Systems and the Canyon Ranch Institute's partnership to bring the institute's Life Enhancement Program into Berkshire County. To start, it will bring Canyon Ranch's pioneering health and wellness initiatives to the betterment of low-income and medically underserved residents in the county. It teaches how to live healthy and well: What and how to eat and how to shop for food, how best to exercise, how to change one's mindset to make healthy choices, how to live well and with less stress, etc.

Beyond that, however, Berkshire Health Systems' vision is to expand the program throughout the county and transform our lifestyles as a whole by sharing these tools -- these prescriptions for wellness -- with all. If you ask Berkshire Health Systems CEO David Phelps and his team what this means, they're talking about a culture change within Berkshire County -- going from one of the least healthy groups of people in Massachusetts to among the fittest because it's ingrained in us. This won't be easy, for sure, to engage the community toward this goal; however, wellness is contagious.

Richard H. Carmona, the president of the Canyon Ranch Institute's board of directors and a former surgeon general of the United States, said the program has surmounted considerable odds before.

"We've gone into the communities with the worst health metrics and proven that the concept can work," he said.

Of note, Berkshire Health Systems also is underwriting $500,000 in funding and support to train its professionals in this initiative. This means Canyon Ranch's pioneering health and wellness initiatives will be integrated into Berkshire Health Systems' caregiving, too, becoming part of what shall be an all-encompassing approach in local health care. But undoubtedly, Berkshire Health Systems will need others in the community to come forward to sustain this effort's momentum into the future and bring widespread and lasting change to lifestyles in Berkshire County.


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