The Vermont Greenprint for Health
Health: a state of complete physical, mental and spiritual well-being, not just the absence of illness. (World Health Organization)
Just as music is not the absence of silence, health is not the absence of illness. (anon.)
Our country invests trillions of dollars each year in medical care, but we are still trying to find a way to keep people healthy. The Vermont Greenprint for Health lays out how we can do that. The name is a riff on the Vermont Blueprint For Health, an important program designed to keep Vermonters with chronic illness out of the hospital by addressing health disparities. But who wants to just live with a chronic illness when there are real ways to stay healthy instead?
The impetus for the Greenprint framework came from my deep desire to find solutions that could address our medical conundrum of high cost and poor outcomes while helping to solve climate change as well. The root causes of both problems are strikingly similar: our dependence on agribusiness, monoculture and processed food; on fossil fuels and car-based transportation; and on poorly regulated industries that expose us to pollution and toxins.
The solutions are likewise linked. Public transportation is known to drastically reduce climate pollution and improve health in many ways: Increased physical activity, decreased accidents and better air quality. Local farms add diversity to crops, reduce the need for petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, and offer healthy food. Better regulation of industry should include a carbon fee and monitoring of toxic exposures, allow us to define and value externalities, reduce carbon emissions, and reduce cancer and endocrine diseases.
The Greenprint offers a comprehensive view of health and the tools necessary to achieve health. Healthy diet, daily exercise, emotional well-being (including education, community, connection to nature, hope and fulfillment), quality sleep, and a toxin- and violence-free environment are each necessary to achieve health.
Vermont is uniquely poised to offer the policies and infrastructure that will remove barriers to the tools of health, because it is slated to unfold a single payer medical system in 2017. When government pays for medical care, it can realize the financial and human rights benefits that keeping people healthy can offer.
Putting a dollar amount on what is priceless immediately devalues it. This can and should be considered when talking about solving climate change and providing health to citizens. However, it must also be noted that, according to the CDC, every dollar spent on true prevention saves six. Put another way, 80% of what we spend in medical care goes to treat chronic illness, most of which is preventable illness (think of the effects of obesity and tobacco). That means 80% of 3 trillion dollars nationally, 5 billion dollars in Vermont. If even half of these savings were realized, that would mean that investing in health would save the state of Vermont at least 2.5 billion dollars each year. Given the powerful data that show that our fellow industrialized nations pay much less in medical costs while paying significantly more in social services, it is time for us to commit to the healthy competition of creating the healthiest society of all. That is what the Greenprint envisions for Vermont, and the rest of the country.
Rebecca M. Jones, MD—founder of The Vermont Greenprint for Health
Rebecca Jones MD is a Brattleboro physician and volunteer for 350VT and Doctors for America. Dr. Jones earned her doctorate in medicine from the University of Massachusetts and completed her internship and residency at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. In addition to her general dermatology practice, she specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, early detection of skin cancer, and allergic contact dermatitis. Dr. Jones believes strongly in the importance of the doctor-patient relationship and in prevention and patient education as the foundations of health. Dr. Jones has 20 years of experience helping patients become active participants in the healing process and promoting positive change in the field of health care.
Paul Cameron is the director of Brattleboro Climate Protection(BCP), a nonprofit organization that works closely with the Town of Brattleboro to develop effective local solutions to global climate change. Organized in 2002, BCP collaborates with municipal officials, community and state organizations, businesses, and volunteers to carry out projects that promote energy efficiency and expanded use of renewable energy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Paulina Essunger works as a science editor and believes it’s about time we start designing our communities around people, not cars. Let’s start counting more of the stuff that really counts, on our balance sheets, in our cost/benefit analyses. Let’s move beyond a bunch of our other entrenched errors, too, including the whole “girl”/”boy” thing. Let’s engage with each other as people, not as crotch contours. Freedom from old-fashioned fuels and from other follies—here we come!
Gary Fox has a BS in Management Studies from Lesley College, lives in Bellows Falls and is a Transportation and Operations professional with 25 years of public and private sector experience. Experience includes long-range transportation planning, financial management, legislative and funding mechanisms, regulatory compliance, and community relations. His interests include: biking, yoga, downhill and cross country skiing, spending time with his family, and volunteering in his community. Gary has worked in public/mass transportation for 7 years and natural foods distribution with food coops previously for 18 years and he loves the community based aspect of a local food system.
Dede Cummings is a media and publication relations specialist and a published author. She lives in West Brattleboro, Vermont with her family in a solar house built by her husband, Steve Carmichael. She is an avid bicycle commuter and hiker—her goal being to ride as much as she can to reduce fossil fuel emissions and to hike the entire length of Vermont on the 273-mile Long Trail—she is halfway there. She is also a commentator for Vermont Public Radio (VPR) where she makes a case for The Vermont Greenprint!