”Making a Change in Your Health for the Better”

Health Navigators–Crystal Cook, Mitch Vance, and, seated, Landi Wagner

Many of us have set the same goal over and over, like quitting smoking or losing that pesky ten pounds, only to lose our motivation and carry on without ever making the change. For people with multiple chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, substance abuse and heart disease, health behavior changes can mean the difference between a satisfying life and a painful, premature death. For young healthy people, setting goals to maintain your health as you age will help ensure that you can enjoy your later years.

You are not alone if you think that health and wellness goals can be hard to achieve. The foods we eat, the ways we cook and the amount of time we reserve for exercise and physical activity are powerful habits that have been ingrained in our lifestyles and family cultures. These habits also have a profound effect on our overall health and wellbeing.

Luckily, there are some proven ingredients for making successful behavioral changes. For many people, they find change easier when they have:

• A support system comprised of people who believe in you and your capacity for change even before you do.
• The necessary knowledge and education to approach change.
• A person to help you make small – tiny – steps toward change.
• A way to monitor change and someone to hold you accountable.
• Celebration of small achievements in the change process.

A strong relationship can be a big motivator for change. Southeast Behavioral Health Group, through a federal grant from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Innovation, is working with High Plains Community Health Center, Prowers Medical Center and Prowers County Public Health and Environment to improve health outcomes in Prowers County. They have trained Health Navigators to engage Prowers County residents in hopeful, respectful, and supportive relationships and create an environment where change is possible. With a focus on health rather than disease, the new program addresses the need to prevent disease across the population.

Health Navigators help people with chronic health conditions to capture a healthy vision for themselves. They recognize the ways in which the person has already changed, even in ways they may be unaware, and honor the hard work that change entails. By finding out what change is most important to the person and exploring concrete strategies and resources for change, Health Navigators can be an important cheerleader or coach throughout the change process.

Small changes matter. You cannot run a marathon without first being able to walk around the block. For some people, change can start with just walking across the room five times a day. Health Navigators help people see that change is possible when approached in small, incremental steps. They explain the change process and plan for success by setting specific weekly goals. They provide support by regularly checking in to see how it’s going, celebrate successes, or discuss alternatives if the individual is having difficulty.

In addition to supporting patients by exploring behavioral changes, Health Navigators also support healthcare providers as part of the primary care practice team, and provide links to community resources. The Health Navigator helps the patient to communicate with their primary care provider to support self-management. They also help remove barriers to care by providing resources such as transportation, access to benefits, and patient education. As patients begin to “own” their health, they realize they have the power to impact their health through their behaviors, rather than just popping another expensive new pill. For individuals on Medicare and Medicaid, this can mean millions of dollars in cost savings in Prowers County alone.

In all cases, the Health Navigator supports the patient in their self-management and reinforces provider recommendations that may include adopting healthy lifestyles, taking medications as prescribed, self-monitoring, making and keeping doctor’s appointments, and accessing preventive screening. The Health Navigator provides crucial integration with the Patient-Centered Medical Home to assure continuity of care and smooth transition between the community services and various components of the healthcare system.

Otero Junior College in La Junta has begun offering a certificate course in Health Navigation–the three-credit CHW 275: Special Topics in Community Health Work. OJC intends to become a magnet training center for rural Colorado to promote this new career path. They are planning to offer a core curriculum leading up to an Associate’s degree, with transfer opportunities to four-year institutions. Classes will begin again in January.

Health Navigators are now located at High Plains Community Health Center and Prowers Medical Center. For more information about how to access Health Navigation services in Prowers County, call Jackie Brown, Primary Care Director, at (719) 336-9154.


Jeannie Larsen


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