Taos Woman

Health is more than healthcare

Taos women-healthcare-leaders panel expands on outdated definitions of well-being

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Fixing the broken healthcare system in the U.S. was a big part of a discussion by four  healthcare providers and public health managers on Feb. 10, 2020, in a panel hosted by Taos Women’s Leadership Collective.

The standing-room-only crowd in Manzanita Market on Taos Plaza included social workers, massage therapists, primary care providers, an ACLU worker, administrators, public health managers and non-healthcare community members, all avid to improve health in Taos, and ultimately the world.

The predominant message was, “Health is more than healthcare,” a sophisticated, almost New Age statement about the well-being possible for nearly all people when certain attitudes toward life are incorporated into individual and community values.

Moderated by Aurora Valdez, the Community Wellness Manager for the Taos Pueblo Division of Health and Community Services, panelists included: Juliana Anastasoff, MS, director of the northern Health Extension Rural Office (HERO) of the University of New Mexico-Health Sciences Center where she is faculty in the Department of Family and Community Medicine; Dr. Lilly-Marie Blecher, ND, DOM, Co-Medical Director of Taos Whole Health Integrative Care, who serves on the executive committee of the New Mexico Association of Naturopathic Physicians; and Dr. Geilan Ismail, MD, MBA, FACC, a cardiologist and currently a member of the Board of Directors of Holy Cross Medical Center in Taos.

“What’s the one thing that would dramatically improve your health or life expectancy?” Anastasoff posed rhetorically to the crowd, which roared in laughter at her response – “Move to Finland! Your zip code may be more important than your genetic code.”

Where there is a high degree of social accountability and education, a community’s healthcare expectations and delivery are typically also of a higher caliber – thus the analogy of a zip code being more important in health outcomes than one’s genetic code.

Anastasoff said she probably would have helped improve more health by being a third-grade reading teacher than all the clinical care she’s given over the decades. “It’s the conditions we live in – how we grow, play and age – that have way more to do with our health,” Anastasoff said. She suggested that simply getting more a few more high schoolers to graduate per year would plummet health morbidity and mortality rates.

People act on the choices they have in their given environments, panelists said. When choices are limited or shaped by income, gender, race, age, religion, education or politics, health outcomes are better or worse accordingly. Just reinstating Physical Education in schools would profoundly turn childhood obesity and Type II diabetes rates around, both of which have become national emergencies, not just Taos County problems.

All of the panelists stressed that health needs to be framed as a human right, a moral imperative that everyone have access to what they need.

Dr. Blecher discussed an emotional “safety net” she experienced during an 11-year mentorship she participated in at Outside In, an Oregon healthcare organization. This safety net is a physical and emotional sense that instantly uplifts general life and health indicators, she said. Knowing where help will come from, whether mandated by legislators or coming from family, neighbors, volunteers and the like, does indeed increase overall well-being dramatically.

“The psychological well-being is different than others who don’t have that safety net,” Blecher said.

Similarly, during her first eight years of clinical practice, Dr. Ismail said she finally helped a frequently ill man start to get well once she discovered he could not read. He originally showed up at the clinic frequently and was hospitalized often for his health problems. Upon discovering he couldn’t read, she realized he could not take medicines and treatments as written out. Once his reading issues were handled, his health steadily improved and hospitalizations dropped accordingly.

Ismail realized, also, that she was turned off by the big city medical industrial complex and preferred to work within underserved communities. Hence, she and her husband’s decision to move to Taos, 19 years ago.

The panel stressed getting involved in health policy – write legislators, join school boards, mentor youth, help with voter registration. Specifically, the local grassroots nonprofit organization for social/political activists, Taos United/Taoseños Unidos and Taos County Democratic party, are educating and doing voter registrations for students and the general public May 4 and 5, 2020 (see taosunited.org for more information.)

Anastasoff spoke of New Mexico First’s free Community Conversation events about building and sustaining healthy communities, the last one called “Healthcare: Body, Mind and Spirit” held February 2020 at UNM-Taos Bataan Hall, 121 Civic Plaza Drive in Taos. Free childcare and a light meal is often offered during their Community Conversation events. For more information or to volunteer, call (505) 225-2140 or visit nmfirst.org.

“Taos Women's Leadership Collective seeks to improve connectedness, community involvement, and opportunities for women in Taos, through business and technology, government, healthcare, education, the arts and the environment by providing increased access to professional networks for women in the Taos community,” according to a press release.

“By bringing women together, to meet, connect and learn from each other in the engagement of conversations relevant to the community, they seek to inform, inspire, support and empower,” said TWLC co-organizer Trisha Fong.

TWLC co-organizer Karina Armijo, Director of Marketing & Tourism for Taos, said in a press release the February healthcare panel was created “to provide an opportunity for women in Taos to have a conversation with women who have made an impact in our healthcare community.”

The panel was the second in a series of discussions hosted by TWLC. Their first event in September 2019 focused on informing and supporting Taos women running for local office.

“The response from participants was overwhelmingly positive,” added event co-organizer Dawn Boulware, Chief Administrator Officer for Taos Ski Valley Inc., about helping women running for local office. “We want to build upon that engagement and focus on this very important [healthcare] topic in our community.”

For more information about Taos Women’s Leadership Collective, contact Trisha Fong at taoswomenleaders@gmail.com or (802) 917-3074.

Editors note: Parts of this story appeared in Taos News, Feb. 13, 2020

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