Health care providers prescribe recreation; SEARHC helps pay the bill


December 23, 2021 | View PDF

Sarah Aslam/Wrangell Sentinel

Lucy Robinson, recreation coordinator at Wrangell Parks and Recreation, said people can sign up for a card that acts like a prescription and grants them access to exercise programs and other physical activities, courtesy of funds from SEARHC.

Eat your fruits and veggies, move around plenty and drink lots of water – a combination of these recommendations have come from health care providers for generations.

Doctors have always told patients exercise is important, said Dr. Victor Sanoe Harrison, lead hospitalist at Wrangell Medical Center under the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. What's new is that an entity like SEARHC is helping to pay the costs for exercise.

"Exercise has been prescribed forever," Harrison said, "just finding someone to pay for it is novel."

When Olinda White had to get her hip replaced five years ago, she attended water arthritis classes at the community pool to help improve her muscle tone ahead of the surgery.

After the procedure, she used the class to get her strength back. White, 74, still attends the class, and said she enjoys going to the arthritis class to keep her in shape and moving. It also helps alleviate pain from a sciatic nerve problem.

"Doing exercises in the water takes all the pull off your muscles," White said. "I thought maybe if I was in pain, I wouldn't be able to do them but the opposite happened."

To allow more people to experience the same benefits as White, SEARHC formed an alliance with the borough's parks and recreation department four years ago, Harrison said. Every year since then, SEARHC contributes to subsidize exercise for its employees and clients.

This year SEARHC contributed $10,000 to its yearly employee and client fund for the parks and recreation programs. Last year, it was $7,000.

Providers prescribe a parks and recreation pass that looks like a business card with an expiration date, Harrison said. The idea is to remove financial obstacles to exercise. SEARHC covers the full amount.

Some health care providers at Wrangell Medical Center may not remember it's a benefit they can offer, he said, but if people in the community know about it, they can ask their provider. Harrison said he certainly encourages those who can afford to support parks and rec themselves to do so, but wants people to know this is an option.

Lucy Robinson is recreation coordinator at parks and recreation. At the "expiration date" of their card, the people enrolled in the program can assess, at that time, if the activity has benefited them, Robinson said.

The SEARHC benefit has provided accessibility for people who don't otherwise have the opportunity or incentive, she said.

Aside from the pool, cardio equipment and weight room, "we try to pump out a healthy balance of activities for all ages," Robinson said. "Youth basketball, open gym, the pumpkin plunge." Between Director Kate Thomas and Robinson, they try to be creative, she said. The community also likes pop-up programming that runs for a certain period of time. "People like to commit, but committing long-term is tough," Robinson said.

The activities run just long enough to maintain the novelty, and the recreation center can rotate the type of play offered.

Among the latest editions that have shown popularity is the "Keep Moving" classes for adults on Tuesday and Thursday mornings that focus on improving cardio endurance and increasing range of motion and strength through low-impact body weight movements. The one-hour class has been among their most popular, Robinson said. The class is going on a short break for the holidays and will resume in January.

Prescribed and funded recreation is a trend nationwide, Harrison said. Companies that see the value of exercise will reimburse for membership to gyms or provide facilities at their workplaces.

Another local program that subsidizes exercise is the federally funded Wisewoman program. The program, administered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is going on four years this spring, said Tammi Meissner, health educator for the program in Wrangell. Income-eligible women enrolled in Wisewoman services get half off the $4 drop-in rate at parks and recreation.

At SEARHC, Harrison said the tie-in with parks and recreation has been successful, his patients approve of the covered entrance fee, and he said it's "a good option for a lot of patients who need it."

Harrison said he can prescribe parks and recreation for his patients' treatment, be it obesity, diabetes, depression or other ailments.

"It's the answer for almost every single problem in the medical textbook," Harrison said.


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