Get moving, get healthy in 2016

Bendigo Weekly | Bendigo Weekly | 08-Jan-2016

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By Liz Hamilton
Executive Director of Healthy Communities and Continuing Care at Bendigo Health.

2016 has begun and so many of you will have resolved to be healthier this year; perhaps to exercise and lose weight. Each year the media rolls out stories about New Year’s resolutions and how hard they can be to keep. 

But being healthier is a worthy goal, so don’t be disheartened. I encourage you to be realistic and look at making some small and sustainable changes to improve your
overall health. 

Little things such as swapping soft drink for water or taking the stairs instead of the lift can make a big difference and you will feel better for it both now and in the future.

Back in 2013 Bendigo Health made a very public commitment to improve the health of our community in our strategic plan, healthy communities and world class healthcare. 

The two concepts go hand in hand, you cannot be world class if you do not look at a patient holistically and work with them to encourage healthy choices and take responsibility for their long term health.

Taking a leadership role in our region has been embraced throughout our staffing group and I think that is partly because our staff look after people suffering from the effects of poor lifestyle choices. 

You just have to look at some basics facts about our patient cohort at Bendigo Health to know that preventable lifestyle diseases are a big challenge for our region.

In our medical unit alone, 37 per cent of patients are smokers compared to the smoking rate of the broader community of 18-19 per cent. Sadly, about 13 per cent of our new mums keep smoking throughout their pregnancies, this is higher than the state average despite the risks to their babies and themselves. Partner smoking rates are over 30 per cent. 

This is an area we plan to focus on in coming months. It is also an area of influence that delivers measurable outcomes so we can track our impact.

Another important measure of wellbeing is a person’s weight. Analysing the weight of the patients who are attending appointments in our specialist outpatient clinics, 70 per cent are overweight or obese and 20 per cent are classified as bariatric. If we do not take action as a community we will face an increasing burden of chronic disease that we cannot meet.

When our CEO asked me to take the lead in the healthy communities space I jumped at the chance because this is an area of personal interest for me. 

I hope my passion for this priority is infectious and I feel privileged to be in a position to drive positive changes that impact people in very significant ways. 

I believe in leaders walking the talk. I am a long distance runner and am very proud to have completed more than 50 half marathons. I also watch what I eat and make an effort to stay in a healthy weight range.

It was not always the case for me, I grew up in a family where healthy food was not the first choice and as a result I was overweight as a child, however once I entered my late teens I made a conscious choice to be healthy and active. 

This has rubbed off on my children and I know that living healthily is a conscious choice and one which can be challenging in today’s society. Bendigo alone has four McDonalds, four KFC outlets and a myriad of other fast food outlets. 

When unhealthy choices are so convenient it can be hard to convince people to prepare meals from fresh ingredients. 

However, we are privileged to live in such a great city with walking or cycling tracks, swimming pools, parks and clean air – a great environment to spend time in.

As a major health provider we have the chance to influence people’s choices and to talk to them about their long term health. The annual “most trusted professions” survey conducted by Roy Morgan consistently finds that nurses are seen as the most ethical and honest profession with doctors and pharmacists also featuring in the top 10. 

When patients trust their health care team they are more likely to listen to them. We are trying to capture this by encouraging our staff to talk to patients about their lifestyle choices whilst they are receiving care. We have rolled out a project to support patients to be smoke free across 13 wards or services with a further eight earmarked for roll out in the coming months. 

This project supports patients and clients of Bendigo Health who are smokers to manage their nicotine withdrawal whilst they are an inpatient, and, if they would like, support them to reduce or cease smoking. 

Recent statistics showed that of the 118 referrals to the program, 32 patients indicated post discharge that they have reduced or quit. Just as encouraging is the number of staff I have heard about who have quit smoking as a result of our focus on healthy communities.

We have established two health promotion committees to drive our vision of a healthy community, one for patients and one for staff and it has been wonderful to see how enthusiastically our staff have embraced this initiative. 

Recently our volunteers formed a walking group to provide social interaction and exercise and some teams have commenced walking meetings. The internal menu has been revised to provide healthy options for catering and we recently trialled a free fruit offer for staff who purchase lunch in the cafeteria.

Our residential care facilities have also embraced the concept with attractive walking paths and gardens for residents to enjoy as well as programs to assess smoking. Our dental services have a range of programs to encourage healthy behaviours throughout our lifetimes, from preschool to adulthood. 

One of the strong messages they promote is the importance of drinking water over sugary drinks. With the prevalence of overweight and obesity steadily rising in Australia, switching to water is a simple change many of us can make that will have an immediate impact on our health.

Australia has one of the best health systems in the world but we will have a crisis on our hands if we cannot change behaviours now. This is all of our responsibility. To have meaningful impact we need a collective approach. 

Bendigo Health is taking a lead in our community to partner with health providers, schools and businesses in order to deliver measurable outcomes. 

I encourage you to do the same.

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