Paving the Path to Better Health in Humboldt County

04 Nov 2013

“In my life, this is the most meaningful thing that I do⎯changing the world eight people at a time. It’s a small group, but a small group of people who have had a hard time with their health. They begin to see themselves in a different light and their disease in a different light,” said Marion Love.

Love is referring to her work as a leader of the Our Pathways to Health program. Our Pathways to Health is a free, chronic disease self-management initiative coordinated by the Aligning Forces Humboldt, led by the California Center for Rural Policy (CCRP). The program features a six-week workshop for patients with chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, chronic pain, or heart conditions. More than 850 participants have graduated from 115 workshops, given in both English and Spanish, since the program’s inception in September 2008. Reports show that alumni of the program are hospitalized less, seek fewer doctor appointments, and save a reported $4 for every $1 they spend in health care.

Developed by Dr. Kate Lorig of the Stanford Patient Education Research Center, these interactive and innovative workshops are a mixture of health education and peer support that have been implemented around the world for more than 20 years. The sessions focus on self-management tools, brainstorming, and goal setting. A unique feature of Our Pathway’s to Health is the peer leadership model.

“People are impassioned after the workshops. They see a transformation in themselves and the other participants. They are inspired to become peer leaders,” said Michelle Comeau, program coordinator.

After submitting an evaluation, Comeau contacts participants who have expressed interest in becoming leaders. Once selected, the leaders complete an orientation and a four-day training program.

“I have been both a participant and a leader. My most inspirational experience has been observing the unsure participant simply commit to the workshop and then at the end of the six weeks, see that same person confront full force their chronic illness and make life-changing decisions to become an active participant in their own health and health care. The change can be as dramatic as that, or could simply be a food choice change, decision to become more active, or developing a collaborative relationship with their care provider. I have observed many participants change the trajectory of their life in these workshops.  I became a leader because I believe in the program,” said Stayce Curry, program leader.

Through a Community Transformation Grant (CTG) provided by the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services–Public Health Branch, Our Pathways to Health has expanded its Spanish-language partnerships and created new partnerships with resource providers throughout the community. The Spanish-language workshops have increased in number from one a year to three to better serve this population in Humboldt County. The partnership also includes Open Door Community Health Clinics. Aligning Forces Humboldt hosted a Spanish-language leader training to increase the program’s capacity and better support this expansion. 

The Alliance plans to continue to sustain and develop the program by broadening its reach to more cities and communities. Our Pathways to Health Humboldt County is a pillar of consumer engagement, having the highest participation rate per capita in the state of California, according to the Partners in Care Foundation in 2010.

“The program is improving the quality of life for our patients. Moving forward, we want to focus on assessing Patient Activation Measures to identify potential areas for interventions and cost savings,” said Melissa Jones, Project Director of the Aligning Forces Humboldt.