YMCA Offers Chronic Disease Prevention Programs

Erie, PA – The YMCA of Greater Erie will introduce a suite of evidence-based chronic disease prevention programs that will be open to the public. These programs are a YMCA strategic initiative in response to Erie County’s community health needs assessment. This initiative is meant to refocus the YMCA into a community-based Healthy Living Center.

The programs have been established with more than $100,000 received from Y-USA, the Highmark Foundation and the Erie Community Foundation.

“YMCAs across the country are committed to a community integrated health model which strengthens the linkages between traditional healthcare and community-based prevention strategies in order to help individuals prevent, delay, or live better with chronic conditions,” says Gerry Vandemerwe, YMCA of Greater Erie CEO. “Community integrated health increases access to care, lowers costs and prevents and addresses chronic disease.”

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Erie County is ranked 55th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties in health outcomes, which is about the length and quality of life. The county is ranked 53rd in health factors, which determine a person’s health.

Vandemerwe says Y-USA and the RWJF have worked together to improve health since 2008. In 2016, Y-USA and RWJF renewed their commitment with a 10-year partnership dedicated to helping build a Culture of Health across the country. For the first three years of the partnership, Y-USA studied and developed the Y’s unique model for community integrated health. Y-USA also helps local YMCAs receive reimbursement from third-party payers (health insurance plans, employers, etc.) for chronic disease prevention programs.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke, and cancer have changed the face of American medicine. The Center for Disease Control reports that 7 out of 10 people die of a chronic disease, and the US Department of Health and Human Services found that tobacco use is the

leading cause of preventable death and disease in the U.S., resulting in more than 480,000 deaths per year.

“These are shocking, overwhelming facts that seem impossible to overcome. And yet, the YMCA has emerged with comprehensive programs to support, encourage, and improve the health of those who suffer with chronic disease,” says Vandemerwe.

The Y’s vision as a healthy living center is to provide programming and community to those suffering with chronic diseases, and to help educate the community about healthy habits that prevent chronic diseases from taking hold.

“We are working hand-in-hand with YMCAs in Pennsylvania and like-minded providers in Erie County to provide programs to help those recovering from or trying to prevent a chronic disease,” says Kelly Gibson, YMCA Healthy Living Director.  “The Y is a total wellness resource to improve overall community health. We’re a perfect partner for those recovering from or trying to prevent a chronic disease. The programs are provided for free or at a low cost, which allows us to help bridge the gap between doctor care and regular life. The YMCA has the equipment and spaces to provide high-quality programs and the Y-USA training allows our staff to become experts in developing healthy habits.”

According to the Erie County Department of Health’s Community Health Assessment, in Erie County, heart disease and cancer accounted for 45.4 percent of all deaths. Death rates for all causes of death, heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, and nephritis in Erie County were significantly higher compared with Pennsylvania.

“The percentage of Erie County adults who have diabetes and prediabetes is not improving and remains higher than both Pennsylvania and the nation. Target populations are African American adults, rural residents, and residents with lower educational levels,” says Sean Beers, YMCA Executive

Director. “Since 2007, the percentage of adults in Erie County who are obese (BMI >=30) has steadily increased from 28% to 35%. This is higher than Pennsylvania and the nation.”

In addition, the report also states that since 2011, the percentage of Erie County adults who report poor physical health has steadily increased from 36% to 45% and is higher than Pennsylvania.

“Our hope with these programs is to help people avoid being part of these statistics. We want to teach people how to live healthier and to provide support for them while they make these lifestyle changes” says Beers.

The following programs will be offered through the Y’s Chronic Disease Prevention Programs this fall and into 2020, with others expected to launch in 2021.

Diabetes Prevention Program – a 10-month evidence-based behavior change program aimed at reducing your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Program led in a small group setting facilitated by a certified coach. As a participant in the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program, you will take 26 classes over the course of a year surrounded by a group of supportive people with common goals who care about your well-being. Participants also receive a 6-month membership to the Y.

Blood Pressure Self -Monitoring – One in three American adults has high blood pressure, which puts them at risk for stroke and heart disease, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. Blood Pressure Self-Monitoring program offers personalized support as participants develop the habit of monitoring their blood pressure.  Research shows that the process of recording blood pressure at least twice a month over a period of four months can lower blood pressure in many people with high blood pressure.

Moving for Better Balance – In the United States, falls related injuries are major public health concerns for individuals over 65 as well as those living with chronic conditions such as heart disease.  Moving for Better Balance is a 12-week evidence-based group exercise program, based on the principles of Tai Chi, is led by a qualified instructor and teaches eight movements

modified especially for falls prevention. The program works to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility to enhance overall physical health, which leads to better functioning in daily activities. The program works to improve balance, muscle strength, flexibility and mobility to enhance overall physical health, which leads to better functioning in daily

activities. Participation in the program may also result in better mental  health, reduced stress, improved memory and cognition, and increased self-esteem.

Alzheimer’s Support Flex & Reflect – small group program aims to keep patients and their caregivers socially engaged, cognitively challenged, and physically active. The program incorporates games, art, puzzles, fellowship and activities to increase blood flow to the heart and brain. These activities can preserve memory and slow progress of the disease.

Additional offerings in 2021 will include Tobacco Cessation and Healthy Weight and Your Child.

For additional information on the YMCA Healthy Living Center and their suite of programs, contact Chronic Disease Prevention Director Devyn Peskorski at (814) 899-9622. These programs are open to the public; YMCA membership is not required.


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