Positive changes in the community

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  • Alison Welch stands with her patients (back row) Ellen K. Zierke, Don Wray, Booey Garcia, (front row) Louise Hawkins and Patricia Stracner who participate in Kaiser Permanente’s Senior Wellness group. (COURTESY PHOTO/KAISER PERMANENTE)
    Alison Welch stands with her patients (back row) Ellen K. Zierke, Don Wray, Booey Garcia, (front row) Louise Hawkins and Patricia Stracner who participate in Kaiser Permanente’s Senior Wellness group. (COURTESY PHOTO/KAISER PERMANENTE)

WAIMEA — For more than 12 years, Waimea resident Alison Welch has served her greater Hawaiian community in the health care industry. Most recently, she finds herself surrounded by nonagenarians — 90-year-olds.

As a clinical health educator for Kaiser Permanente, Welch is responsible for the company’s health and wellness program for the Big Island. She is also the “go to” coordinator for Kaiser Permanente’s Regional Tobacco Cessation Program on Oahu, Maui, Hawaii Island and Kauai.

Thrive: Living a Healthy Life is the newest class Welch is leading. Originally created to help Kaiser Permanente members with chronic conditions, it soon became apparent the curriculum could benefit more people. The six-week class is about becoming stronger, healthier and leading a more balanced life. Topics include taking action, diet, exercise, stress management and making a change that lasts a lifetime.

The free class is offered at all of the Big Island clinics in Hilo, Kona and Waimea. At Kaiser Permanente Waimea Clinic residents can participate on Mondays from 4-5:30 p.m. throughout February and March beginning next week.

Growing up in Mill Valley, California, Welch was exposed to progressive and alternative medicine daily. Her father was a physicist, and mother an advocate and teacher of preventive health and holistic medicine. This was the perfect blend for maintaining an open mind and grounded body.

As a child, Welch was challenged with asthma.

“I would have an inhaler from the doctor, but also would utilize visualization to keep me calm during asthma attacks. The mixture of both modalities did wonders for my health, and ultimately lead me to pursue a career in health and wellness education,” she said.

Welch is passionate about encouraging patients to make the necessary connection to “owning their own health.”

“Everyone here at Kaiser Permanente is here to help guide a person on the path to good health, but ultimately each individual is in charge of their own health and well-being,” she said.

Sometimes taking charge of one’s health requires drastic lifestyle changes, but may be as simple as adding plant-based nutrition or exercise routines. What gives Welch the most pleasure is to observe patients making positive transitions into healthier lives.

Some might assume members in a senior wellness group would be the first to balk at making such changes. However, this has not been Welch’s experience working with those 65 and older. The group was created to help address issues related to but not limited to anxiety, depression, loneliness and social isolation.

Older adults face a multitude of transitions that sometimes include the death or significant illness of friends or family members. Retirement, disability and loss of independence also are common events. The ongoing drop-in class allows individuals to read specific articles, meet with other members who face similar events and share personal experiences. Laughing and learning skills to cope with a variety of situations is accomplished while increasing their social network of support.

Welch herself finds it rewarding to lead the senior wellness group. Meetings begin with either a breathing exercise or guided imagery to “let go” of what is happening outside the classroom, and to bring awareness to the present moment.

“It is wonderful to see how receptive this group is to new ideas and concepts,” she said. “I would never have imagined that one of my 89-year-old male patients would be so open to doing a ‘laughter meditation’ and Buddhist breathing techniques.”

Welch feels rewarded for all she learns from the senior group. Two women in particular, ages 94 and 98, continue to be exemplary role models.

“They might not be able to see as well as they used to, or even hear so well, but a recent conversation illustrates their simplicity, humor and joy. One day the 98-year old asked the 94-year-old, ‘You went to the movies? Could you see or hear it?’ She responded, ‘Well, I heard about half and I could see about half. But then when we were all done, I got to sit with my friends and they told me the half I missed. What could be better than that?”

In addition to her work with seniors, during a typical week at Kaiser, Welch helps residents quit smoking, supports couples with healthy communication, and works with members on behaviors associated with weight management and chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and pain. Adopting healthy lifestyle choices is a pivotal component of all education programs that may include diet, exercise, stress management and time management.

“One thing I definitely have learned these past 12 years is that we are all on this wellness journey together,” she said. “We can learn so much from each other.”

Info or to register for the Thrive class: Call Alison Welch at 933-4510

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