As a community, Muncie and Delaware County have some of the best clinical care options in the entire state. Out of 92 Indiana counties, Delaware is among the top-15 leaders in providing excellent medical care for patients struggling with diabetes, hypertension, mental health disorders, obesity, and more.
However, when it comes to health behaviors that can help prevent those same types of diseases and illnesses and health outcomes, Delaware County ranks near to dead last.
That’s why Lenny Kaminsky, the John and Janice Fisher Distinguished Professor of Wellness, decided to lead the College of Health in launching a community-based center run by Ball State faculty and students as well as IU School of Medicine-Muncie medical students. Its goal: to provide a free resource promoting healthy lifestyle choices for Muncie and Delaware County residents that will lead to improved health outcomes.
Supported by a Ball Brothers Foundation grant for their Optimus Primary initiative, the Healthy Lifestyle Center (or HLC) opened its door in April 2018, empowering its clients to live healthy, happier lives through simple, realistic lifestyle changes tailored to each person’s specific needs.
As a graduate student in clinical mental health counseling and a graduate assistant for Ball State’s Fisher Institute for Health and Well Being, Matt Lewandowski was involved in the Healthy Lifestyle Center from its launch through his graduation this Summer.
When he enrolled in Ball State, Matt said, he had no specific intention to “becoming engrained in the community and invested in its future.” Through the Healthy Lifestyle Center, he now feels a close connection to both the area and a strong desire to see its citizens become healthier.
“I would love to see the county’s health outcomes match or exceed the clinical care that is provided. My hope is that this project continues long into the future,” he said.
In the following interview, Matt Lewandowski talks about more about his experience as a graduate assistant with the Healthy Lifestyle Center.
What does the Healthy Lifestyle Center do?
The Healthy Lifestyle Center is a free, community-based center focused on improving the health of individuals by providing education and support for making healthy lifestyle choices and adopting healthy behaviors. We meet with clients individually to provide support related to diet and nutrition, physical activity and exercise, creating positive behavior change, teaching stress management, and promoting health education.
Furthermore, we offer support related to social work, nursing, and medical education by medical students from the IU School of Medicine-Muncie, in addition to offering a free audiology clinic for hearing-related needs. We can assist with individuals struggling with various health concerns such as diabetes, hypertension, and obesity whether it is providing nutritional advice for foods to eat or ways to get more physically active. Ultimately, our goal is to provide long-term support for someone who is looking to make positive changes to their health.
Starting in the fall, the HLC will also be operating out of the brand new Health Professions Building on campus at Ball State. This will allow for us to expand our operations providing even more services such as different health screenings, workshops, and health-specific programming such as the Diabetes Prevention Program.
When did you become involved in the center?
It began almost from the very beginning of the project. I was first interviewed by Dr. Kaminsky prior to my first semester at Ball State. In the Fall of 2017 there were two graduate assistants dedicated to the project, myself and Allison Blake, who is a master’s student in the dual program for clinical mental health counseling and sport and exercise psychology.
The beginning phases consisted of laying the groundwork for the project. Allison and I were tasked with meeting with affiliated faculty from the College of Health. That included the schools of kinesiology and nursing, the departments of counseling psychology, social psychology and counseling, nutrition and health science, social work, and speech pathology and audiology. Our goal was to begin brainstorming how we might translate this idea into a real, tangible resource in the community.
Additionally, we needed to start defining our operations, policies, and procedures. Essentially, we were building this project from the ground up, with a lot of room for evolving.
What happens when a client visits the HLC?
A key component of our work with clients involves using an initial intake assessment. This questionnaire assesses various components of a client’s health including health history, physical activity, eating habits, social needs, hearing, and screeners for both depression and anxiety.
Additionally, we are looking to assess the client’s overall health goals they are looking to improve. Our mission is to provide specific education and consultations related to an individual’s health needs, goals, and behaviors. We assist with providing support for adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors and making healthy lifestyle choices. These include things like adopting an exercise routine, eating healthier, incorporating stress management techniques, and improving their sleep.
There are five main lifestyle factors that are well defined in research related to health outcomes: a high-quality diet, exercising regularly, a healthy weight (BMI), not smoking, and moderate alcohol intake. These five lifestyle factors have been found time and again to be correlated and associated with reduced risk of chronic illness, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, increased life expectancy, delayed disability, and improved quality of life.
Our goal is to help empower and assist individuals to incorporate these different lifestyle factors into their life to help improve their overall health. We do this through providing one-on-one consultations related to exercise, nutrition, audiology, stress management, sleep hygiene, health literacy, medical education, and overall well-being.
What are challenges facing the center?
One of our main barriers has been getting clients to the center. While we can all agree the importance of our resource, that does not necessarily translate to a steady flow of seeing clients.
The HLC is unique and thus is uncommon for most people to understand — it took me months until I felt I was accurately portraying the message of who we are and what we are providing. Additionally, marketing our services to the community has been an ongoing process. We have met with many community representatives, groups, and organizations all working to serve the population of Delaware County. We have visited every physicians’ office in the county to try and market who we are and how we can be beneficial for their clients. While we have seen an increase in clients at the HLC, we have a greater capacity to serve the community and the desire and passion to do so.
What have you gained through your work with the HLC?
One important takeaway I have gained is the ability to work as an interprofessional team. This project has given me the opportunity to work with others from nutrition and dietetics, exercise science, nursing, social work, audiology, as well as medical students. Together, we have worked as an interprofessional team to provide our services for the community.
This experience has allowed me to learn from these various professionals and gain an understanding of how our integrated care can improve the lives of others. Additionally, this project has continued to challenge me to expand upon my knowledge of what defines a healthy lifestyle.
It has been an incredibly rewarding experience to have worked on this project essentially from the very beginning. I have invested a lot of time and energy into the project. I have helped develop the project into a tangible resource that provides assistance for community members looking to improve their health.
My hope is that this project continues long into the future. Hopefully we continue to get funding that can ensure this is a sustainable resource for the community. If I could put a long-term aspiration on it, I would love to see the county’s health outcomes match or exceed the clinical care that is provided.