Business, Health

Health and Wellness Project to grow, improve this year

Heidi Zemach for SCN
Seward’s Health and Wellness project is about to enter its third year, with some changes over previous years such as prizes for effort, support groups, private nutrition sessions, behavioral counseling, social networking, and free pool cards. The new program also hopes to reach 30 more people than in each of the previous two years by offering two six-month sessions instead of one, with 50 participants in each one.

Susan Ernst and Amber St.Amand speak at Chamber luncheon

Friday was the deadline to apply for the program, and by then more than 100 people had filled out applications. Susan Ernst, the owner of Resurrection Fitness Bodyworks, and Amber St.Amand, who works for Providence Seward Medical & Care Center, and also has begun AK Dietician Services Inc., a new private business, reviewed the history of the wellness program Friday, Dec 7, 2-2012, the last Chamber of Commerce noon luncheon of the year.
The pilot program was started after a community health survey in 2008 found that 36.6 percent of Seward respondents considered themselves “overweight,” 28 percent more called themselves “obese,” and 39 percent of the total said they had not visited the doctor for a wellness checkup in the past three years. Some 13 percent of respondents also said they used the hospital emergency room as their main source of health care, 17 percent used tobacco, and 25 percent took part in binge drinking.
To address some of these issues, the program initially targeted the uninsured and underinsured population for participation, and gave highest priority to those with high numbers for conditions such as blood pressure, high cholesterol, glucose, and obesity—offering them free primary care for a year, free physicals, blood lab-work, gym membership, and nutrition classes and counseling.

Providence Health and Services Alaska Region had received a $100,000 grant for the program by the Community Based Strategic Investment Grant (CBSI) and dispersed through United Way of Alaska. Providence Seward matched that amount with its own $100 thousand. It also has received various local in-kind contributions including services worth $47,000 from Rez Fitness in the first year, and $36,000 in the second year. AK Dietician Services, a new Seward business, has promised to donate $13,000 worth of in-kind services during the 2013 program. That’s a big committment for Amber, Ernst said. Plus offering in-kind services for 30 additional clients (equaling 100) is a “huge increase” for her own business, which regularly collects and tallies the relevant data of each participant throughout the program. The gym also will offer 42 fitness classes, open to the entire community.

In the second year, the program did away with the free primary health care component, which some participants had taken advantage of perhaps too freely, at a greater cost to the hospital than expected, according to the program’s sponsors and former hospital administrator. In its place, Providence began offering a sliding-fee scale to all of its qualifying (uninsured or underinsured) patients, and basic blood lab work and other tests on demand for all community members, at subsidized group rates. These “know your numbers” tests are ongoing, and Providence is currently looking into offering greater evening and also weekend clinic hours to make services more available.

-2011-2012 Project Data:

  • 72% lost weight: 14% lost 5 lbs or more, 22% lost 20 lbs or more
  • Advertisement

  • 53% Lowered both BP numbers
  • 55% lowered resting pulse
  • 67% lost cm of waist: 22% lost 5 cm or more,19% lost 10 cm or more!
  • 47% increased HDL (good cholesterol)
  • 47% decreased LDL (bad cholesterol)44% decreased their Glucose (3 month average)
  • 44% lowered Glucose

The upcoming health and wellness program also will hold a motivational group orientation, social media networking between participants, and participant’s fitness levels also will be taken prior to, and after going through the program.
Last year’s theme was “It’s up to you.” This year’s slogan is “No Excuses.” “We’ve heard them all,” said Ernst. But, she reasons; “if the president and his wife can find the time to work out every day, so can we,” she added.

Amber St. Amand, offering "in-kind" nutritian services (Heidi Zemach photo)

The program’s planners, always seeking to improve the program, hope to provide something to address the differing needs of clients, whether it is a more personalized approach such as one-on-one nutritional or behavioral counseling, or the more group-oriented presentational-style monthly nutrition classes, St. Armand said. Organizers also hope to bring in some guest speakers for the two upcoming sessions, including a behavioral health speaker, and local physicians. To date, the program is estimated to have touched 12-14 percent of the Seward community in some shape or form, Ernst said.

Some 17 people attended the luncheon, among them newly re-elected State Senator for District N Cathy Giessel, a nurse practitioner by training, who drove up from her home in Anchorage. Following the meeting, Giessel gave SCN her reaction to the presentation, with its implicit idea of subsidizing certain aspects of community health care and wellness by removing some of the traditional barriers to care. There definitely is a cost to provide such a program that can be considerable, as was experienced during the first year when free primary health care was offered, Giessel said. But she agreed with the program’s core concept that stresses the need for individuals to take personal responsibility for their own health—as that is what she has often reminded her patients throughout her own practice. You can educate, and repeatedly tell people what they should do to improve their health, Giessel said, but unless they decide to make the change, and carry it through—it won’t happen. And that’s exactly what the wellness program has discovered.



  1. I was a part of last years program. I felt I got a good amount out of it….. however!!!! I would have preferred to go to the APEX gym. I was/am much more comfortable there. Having the option of getting the same program out of both locations would have been optimal. Though I am sure Susan is a nice person, I felt very uncomfortable at the Rez. The perceived enthusiasm was a bit over bearing for me. I also would prefer to take classes in a room that is completely closed off to the work out room where you can not hear the people out there and they don’t hear you.
    Other then that it is a great program that seems to just be getting better. WE live in a town that really needs this…

  2. A coupon, perhaps? To take to the exercise location of your choice. Sounds reasonable. Great program.

  3. I believe an RFP is put out, and the REZ responded.

  4. I was part of the very first year. It was an amazing experience and I was very grateful. Back then we had free doctor’s visits which were offered to curb having to go to the ER because people wait so long for care when they do not have insurance. I really felt Providence cared about my health and it wasn’t just about getting my money. Now that doctor’s visits are no longer part of the program it seems that the focus has turned from the well being of the patient to achieving numbers for Grant purposes. Everything the program offers now are good things however the ultimate goal is the numbers. I hope this program would reconsider offering the free doctor’s visits as I truly believe those free visit’s may have saved my life that year.