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Porter Medical Center offers new services for chronically ill patients

MIDDLEBURY — Porter Medical Center is developing new educational and online services aimed at helping chronically ill patients stay out of the hospital and/or avoid serious surgeries.
The services include a wide range of free workshops and a website, all designed to help people adopt diets and exercise regimens to better live with — or avoid experiencing — persistent ailments such as diabetes, cancer, lupus, heart disease and asthma, or chronic pain caused by serious injury or medical conditions such as fibromyalgia.
“It’s clearly very important that Porter Medical Center continue to find new and creative ways to reach our community in the promotion of good health and to do everything possible to engage our patients as early as possible in the process to maintain their good health,” said Porter spokesman Ron Hallman.
Hallman said the chronic care workshops and website are in keeping with Porter’s self-described mission to “improve the health of the community, one patient at a time.”
Christine Serfozo, head of Porter’s Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, recently launched myhealthyaddisoncounty.org and is coordinating the roughly 20 workshops Porter is now offering each year.
Those workshops focus on health care topics such as tobacco cessation, chronic disease, diabetes management and prevention, and emotional wellbeing. These workshops are run by trained facilitators, many of whom have had personal experience with chronic ailments.
“The workshops are to teach people how to be better caretakers of their own health, so it helps them to develop ‘tool kits’ that are fluid and reactive to changes in their day-to-day systems,” Serfozo said. “It helps them to break down actions into tiny steps.”
Serfozo said some patients believe they need to make big changes to tackle their chronic illnesses, while really they should be pursuing small, incremental adjustments in their lifestyle so as to not shock their system all at once.
“That’s a lot about what the workshops are all about,” Serfozo said.
Each workshop runs for around six weeks, usually at two-and-a-half hours a week, according to Serfozo. The tobacco cessation groups run for four weeks at an hour per week. The workshops usually run during the school year, in recognition of local residents’ busy summer schedules.
Porter’s chronic disease program is in keeping with Vermont’s “Blueprint for Health,” a state-led, nationally-recognized initiative that is helping health care providers meet patients’ medical and social needs. The underlying philosophy is to encourage patients to become more actively involved in their care and to make choices that will keep them healthier and therefore less likely to need invasive care.
“The idea of this is to empower people-centered health care,” Serfozo said. “My job is to make the patient more of a partner in their health care, so we avoid unnecessary use of physician or caretaker time, because they are more able to acclimate themselves or make adjustments to their own care.”
One in four adults in the United States has at least one chronic condition — some of them with two or more serious ailments, according to Serfozo.
A “chronic” illness, by definition, is an affliction that is long lasting, Serfozo noted.
The Porter workshops are held throughout the county to maximize convenience, Serfozo said. Locations have included the Residence at Otter Creek retirement community, the Turning Point Center of Addison County, and Golden Well Farm in New Haven.
Employers can ask for a workshop or group meeting to be held at their place of business, Serfozo added.
“The real work happens with the group dynamic,” she said. “It’s people sharing in these experiences, sharing (health care) tools they have already developed, and refining tools together.”
She acknowledged some of the workshops are better attended than others. The most popular ones, thus far, have related to diabetes, especially the “Living Well with Diabetes” offering.
“It’s people who are already diagnosed,” Serfozo said, “and it’s about the day-to-day living with that disease.”
Porter also offers the YMCA’s diabetes prevention workshop for anyone who is at risk of getting the disease from family history, weight issues and/or high blood pressure. Participants are encouraged to lose weight, eat better and exercise at least 2.5 hours per week to help them reduce their risks of becoming diabetic.
“Everything we do is evidence-based,” Serfozo said of the workshops.
Serfozo is currently looking for a partner organization to help create support groups for patients who need follow-up help once they’ve completed a workshop.
Serfozo last week activated myhealthyaddisoncounty.org. It provides people basic details about the workshops, general information on chronic diseases, and a blog she uses to report on additional tools and resources patients can tap into to improve their health.
“I’m such a social media person, so I saw that need and built it,” Serfozo said.
She said the site should also be useful for folks who want to learn how to become workshop facilitators, and for providers who might want to direct their patients to Porter’s health maintenance offerings.
Serfozo believes the website could eventually lead to a “virtual classroom” through which people could take some workshops on-line. This would give greater access to patients who might be homebound, have transportation challenges, or who prefer more privacy regarding their illness.
“Some people feel alone with their disease,” said Serfozo, who hopes such patients come to realize that others are in the same boat.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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