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Community health program reaches for new heights

Swain Summits is a new community health initiative launched through a partnership between Swain Community Hospital and Swain County Health Department to help people live their best lives.

“The main goal of Swain Summits is to make our community healthier,” said Chelsea Burrell, wellness outreach coordinator at Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital. “We are confident the program offers every individual something positive and meets them along their individual health journey.”

The program, which was started about a year ago, is available for individuals or businesses trying to find a way to encourage their staff to be healthier. Community participation will hopefully lead to lower rates of chronic disease and obesity in the future. It’s already making a difference for more than 100 employees of the Swain County Public Schools system.

During the 2018-19 school year, employees lost a total of 371 pounds, with an average of 6 pounds per person.

Burrell said the program is a points-based system where employees and citizens alike earn points for engaging in healthy activities — reporting adequate sleep, physical activity, healthy food choices, attending fitness classes or health programs, annual exams with a physician and more. 

“Swain Summits starts with a free health screening and ends with a free health screening to truly divulge the health of our community as well as provide statistical evidence that this program format works,” she said. “We are with participants every step of the way through educational videos, explanations and healthy tips. There is no cost to participants.”

The program itself is approximately one year long, and it’s not too late to sign up. Those who miss the initial health screenings Sept. 19-25 can join the program in early 2020 when mid-health screenings for those already involved are done. 

Burrell said post-health screenings will be done in the fall of 2020 to see how far participants have come. Those who participate are eligible for a prize individually as well as a team. Most improved from pre-to-post are eligible for a gift card.

“The ultimate goal of the program is to meet our community where they are and make a positive difference in lives, hopefully making Swain County healthier and happier not only in our eyes but their own,” she said. 

While the program is still young, it has already seen major successes in creating a healthier community in Swain and surrounding counties as well. Harris Regional Hospital and Swain Community Hospital have established this same wellness program format within the school systems across three counties — Jackson, Swain and Graham. 

“In the previous school year (2018-19), we had 328 awesome participants start the year, but only 111 participants completed the program in its entirety. Of those 111 participants, there was over 1,000 pounds lost — an average of 10 pounds per participant — with marginal improvements in cholesterol and body fat percentage. Improvement was seen in all three counties,” Burrell said. 

Thus far, school systems and county employees are the only people who have participated, but now the program is open to the public. Swain Summits is eligible to those who are residents of the county or full-time employees 18 years or older. 

Not only will the program result in a healthier community, but Burrell said it ends up saving the community money as well by reducing health-related expenses. 

“The program is important to every resident from running marathons to getting started for the first time, engaging in new healthy habits that create a happier community in which we live and work,” she said. 

There is no cost associated with Swain Summits. For more information, visit Swain Summits on Facebook. 

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