When Nathan Littauer Hospital and Nursing Home started HealthLink 20 years ago, it could be said it was trying to stop people from becoming health care customers.
"It came about because Nathan Littauer wanted to get in the community with prevention [of illness]," HealthLink Director Sue Cridland said.
Cridland should know, since she's been directing the program for most of the 20 years it has existed.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Sue Cridland, left, director of Community Education, takes the blood pressure of Betsy Lamberton, a Fulton County YMCA member, at HealthLink in Johnstown March 10.
So has Program Secretary Bonnie Wollard. Wollard said HealthLink provides a "wellness instead of illness" option.
"It's a place where people can come to see how to be healthier," Wollard said. "It gets people to be aware to prevent the need for health care - to keep people out of the hospital with free and low-cost programs."
Wollard said people never are turned away from HealthLink program because they can't afford it. She said all types of people of all ages attend its programs.
Larry Kelly, Littauer's president and chief executive officer, said the hospital and nursing home has become more a part of the local community through such programs as HealthLink.
"Nathan Littauer Hospital recognized over 20 years ago that health care was becoming community based," Kelly said. "The Board of Directors approved a bold, forward-thinking plan for this area - accessible, free or low-cost health and wellness services. HealthLink was Littauer's first link into the community. Since then 140,000 attendees have participated in nearly 6,000 programs designed to educate and motivate our community into responsible, healthy behaviors."
A record of the programs and attendees over the years show the program got off to a good start with 128 programs and 4,246 attendees in 1989. Continued growth peeked in 2004 with 489 programs and 9,074 attendees and nearly that many in 2008.
Cridland said the program began as a storefront operation over the Thrift House in Johnstown and then moved behind Off-Track Betting in Johnstown. For the past 13 years, it was in Pyramid Mall in Johnstown and moved last fall to the new YMCA location on Harrison Street.
According to a HealthLink brochure, the program helps bring into reality NLH's mission to provide health maintenance and promotion services in addition to acute care services. It is there "to increase community awareness and provide resources for people who choose to make positive, healthy lifestyle changes."
Programs at HealthLink include cholesterol and blood pressure screenings, smoking cessation, hiking, snowshoeing and mind/body connection programs on managing stress, meditation, and therapeutic touch. Childbirth and parenting programs are taught as well as weight management, good nutrition, exercise, fitness and cancer prevention.
With all those programs aimed at wellness, Cridland said the YMCA is an excellent place to provide space, with its pool and fitness equipment and programs in the same building. She said many already have signed up for HealthLink programs because they were members of the YMCA and were coming there anyway.
"By now, we've all gotten the message that exercise is good for us," Cridland said. "We may even admit that we feel better when we exercise. But 'how much' and 'how often' are questions that sometimes confuse us, as well as 'just what are those benefits we keep hearing about?' "
Other health agencies see HealthLink as part of the total community of care.
Denise Frederick is the public health director for Fulton County and sees HealthLink as part of the health team for the county.
"HealthLink has been our complementing partner in the community," Frederick said.
Cridland regularly publishes information to those who may not attend HealthLink programs, but can still benefit from the information. In a recent article in The Leader-Herald, she wrote:
"Here are some of my suggestions for surviving stressful times:
"Instead of reaching for caffeine as an energy boost, try a brisk walk in the fresh air. Be sure to get enough sleep as it directly impacts our energy level and our ability to problem-solve. Just because we can burn our candle at both ends doesn't mean we should. Our energy level is also affected by what we eat and how we eat. The body and brain need good fuels throughout the day to operate at maximum efficiency, so skipping meals is not beneficial. Choose a balanced diet with healthy portion sizes.
"In addition to the above, strategies for maintaining good mental health includes reminding ourselves that we can choose our attitude. We choose whether we put a positive or negative spin on events, forming our attitude. A negative attitude adds to our stress level," she wrote.
Many in the local community take advantage of HealthLink. At the March 10 introductory Personal Weight Planning program presentation by Anita Hanaburgh, Jeannine Schwartz of Caroga Lake said she was there to help reach her weight goal with a 1,600-calorie-per-day diet.
"[Hanaburgh] helped me make wise food choices," Schwartz said. "I also signed up for the 'Mood and Food' program."
Sandy Peters of Gloversville said the program helped her with great ideas for food exchanges.
"You need to plan what you eat," Peters said. "It's important to know your target goal and use the new food pyramid."
Peters said there is a good Web site for making those choices at www.mypyramid.gov.
"It has some great material," Peters said.
Comments by attendees show the interaction and ideas exchange that takes place at HealthLink programs. It isn't just an education program. Participants also network and help each other with tips and information.
"People already know what they should be eating," Hanaburgh said. "They just need some reinforcement of good eating habits."
Trisa Bills said she has attended most of the hiking and snowshoeing events the past few years with her sister.
"I really enjoy it," she said. "We get to know trails we wouldn't have otherwise."
Bills said there are other added benefits.
"We've formed friendships from the programs," Bills said. "It's a nice way to meet people with the same interests."
Bills said she also attended Monday's "Food and Mood" program with her husband and daughter.
"People should take advantage of these programs," she said. "They are close by and either free or very low cost."
For more information, call HealthLink Littauer at 736-1120, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the Web site at www.nlh.org, or visit the Wellness Center at its new location in the Fulton County YMCA, 213 Harrison St. Extension, Johnstown, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Richard Nilsen is a general assignment reporter and can be reached at email@example.com.