In the area surrounding the rural, blue collar town of Windsor, Vt, the statistics weren't encouraging. Fifty-four percent of children in the local elementary school came from families with incomes below 110 percent of the poverty rate. Per capita income averaged $21,936. Community health woes reflected its financial struggles-the residents suffered from a higher-than-average incidence of diabetes, respiratory disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer of the respiratory systems, while contending with gaps in health care services and limited access to transportation to receive medical attention.
However, this dim picture has brightened due to the efforts of Mt. Ascutney Hospital and Health Center (MAHHC). The recent recipient of the 2011 McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service, sponsored by The Baxter International Foundation, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and Health Research & Educational Trust, MAHHC, was honored for its multifaceted programs that have improved quality of life and access to healthcare for the surrounding area.
Each year, this $100,000 prize is presented to a healthcare organization that provides innovative programs that significantly improve the health and well-being of its community. The long-running prize, first awarded in 1986, inspires hospitals, health systems and communities to assess and implement impactful healthcare initiatives. Mt. Ascutney's programs such as the consolidated health and human services found at Windsor Connection Resource Center, supportive communities for the elderly at the Historic Homes of Runnemede and free healthcare at the Windsor Community Health Clinic have impacted the lives of diverse community members who previously lacked adequate healthcare due to financial or accessibility limitations.
One such group includes those who have taken control over mental health challenges through the Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) program at the Windsor Connection Resource Center, which houses many other health services in an accessible location. The area was previously lacking in psychiatry services, so having access to WRAP-in which individuals identify mental health triggers and issues and create action plans for addressing them-has made a world of difference for many local residents. Over 400 individuals took advantage of the mental health services at the Windsor Connection Resource Center in 2010.
One participant in the program shares, "This has changed my life completely. I used to think of myself as this 'mentally ill' person. Now I am a person who knows how to take care of myself and help myself in difficult times. If I am feeling badly or having a hard time, I take action. And there are so many simple, safe things I can do."
Another vulnerable segment of the local population-the elderly-finds support through the Historic Homes of Runnemede. Three dilapidated historic buildings were restored to their former glory to create facilities for senior residential and hospice care, making for a warm and supportive environment for the elderly. Since Mt. Ascutney began its collaboration with the senior housing, the homes transformed from failing residential facilities where doctors were reluctant to admit patients, to ones that now are financially stable and run at 93 percent occupancy. The hospice program-which allows patients to remain in comfortable, familiar surroundings, rather than go a hospital- is now so positively regarded that the Historic Homes of Runnemede has been asked to mentor other facilities.
"Other places are more institutional," said resident, Sarah Hadley. "I feel I get personalized attention from the staff here, and my quality of life has improved." Hadley adds, "Living alone at home I wouldn't bother with meal preparation, but here you get to enjoy a home cooked meal with others."
Many uninsured or underinsured residents previously stayed away from the doctor's office because of the cost. Now, these community members are able to get the care they need, due to the free access to essential services offered through the Windsor Community Health Clinic. In 2010, 617 patients were served and received $15,424 in pharmaceutical vouchers and $40,407 of free medications. In some cases, these visits have resulted in the detection of serious conditions in individuals who were previously forced to delay health care.
"I have seen patients come into the clinic with symptoms of lung cancer and other cancers who didn't have insurance so they didn't go to the doctor," said Kathleen Castellini, LNA, the coordinator for the clinic.
The clinic-one of the original members of the National Association of Free Clinics-also provides patients with the means to follow up on their care, by assisting them in applying for insurance. "Many patients don't have a primary care provider when they contact the clinic and have an issue that they need to be seen for," Castellini said. "When they are here I set them up for a primary care provider, help them sign up for health insurance through the state or financial application to get free or reduced care here. This gives them the freedom to follow up on their care."
The $100,000 that MAHHC has been awarded through the McGaw Prize will go towards continuing the inspirational work of these three programs, as well as several other initiatives MAHHC also spearheads within the community to bridge the gap in healthcare access and coverage in its community, and promote a healthier lifestyle among residents.
"Using an array of educational initiatives and programs that promote healthier living, and by modeling healthy behaviors ourselves, we are measurably changing our existing culture," said Kevin W. Donovan, CEO of MAHHC. "Receiving this award is a wonderful recognition of our long-standing commitment to improving the health and wellness of our community."