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Baystate Health gives $20K to YMCA

Money will help subsidize prescribed exercise program

GREENFIELD — The parent of Baystate Franklin Medical Center has given $20,000 to the YMCA to help hundreds of residents follow through on an exercise regimen prescribed by their doctors.

The Baystate Health donation will allow the YMCA to continue offering discounted rates for its “Exercise is Medicine” program. Doctors refer patients to the 12-week, $99 introduction to the YMCA to help them achieve results like improved mobility, lowered blood pressure, relief from depression and decreased use of pain medication.

Since the program is not covered by health insurance, the YMCA has been subsidizing just over half of the people who enroll, sometimes offering it for as low as $30, said officials. With an average of 35 people enrolling in the program each month, the financial aid totals about $20,000 each year.

And that’s just one portion of about $450,000 that the YMCA subsidizes annually, said Executive Director Bob Sunderland. The organization looks for revenue to fill that gap, and is hoping to raise about $170,000 through its annual campaign and golf tournament. The United Way of Franklin County also contributes funding, said Sunderland.

For Baystate Health, which has many of its doctors prescribing the exercise regimen, contributing to the cause made sense.

“This program fills a vital need in the community,” said Steven Bradley, a vice president in the health system. “We are glad to have a hand in helping to make it available to more people.”

About 350 people have started the program in the past 10 months, and it typically has a 70 percent completion rate, said Dawn Dorsey, health and wellness director.

After doctors refer patients to the program, a YMCA employee contacts the individual and invites him or her to come in for a consultation. From there, a YMCA employee meets one-on-one with each person and creates a schedule of classes and exercise time — so that ultimately the person is doing some activity two to three days per week.

Dorsey said that staff check in with individuals as they progress through the 12 weeks and come up with a plan for them to continue exercising when they complete the program. The YMCA will follow up with the referring doctors and report on whether the person signed up for, and completed, the program.

Many of the people who join the program haven’t exercised on a routine basis, said Dorsey.

“It really is all about behavioral change,” she said. “It’s moving your life around to make your health a priority.”

Baystate Health may be interested in continuing funding the program in the years to come, said hospital spokeswoman Amy Swisher.

The gift is part of a recent push by the organization to support Franklin County projects. Last fall, Baystate Health gave Greenfield $150,000 to help connect buildings throughout the town with broadband Internet.

The organization served as the lead sponsor for this year’s United Way of Franklin County campaign. It has agreed to match any gifts made to that fundraiser through the end of May.

You can Chris Shores at: cshores@recorder.com, 413-772-0261, ext. 264, or on Twitter @ChrisShores

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