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Saturday June 24th 2017

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Running Wolf Fitness Center: A Wellness Dream Betrayed. Will We Save It?

By Robert Albee

Quite often, I sit in our conference room overlooking the westside entrance to the Phillips Community Center. There I usually see a stream of people entering the building, standing by the door to Running Wolf Fitness Center waiting to be let inside. Or it’s somebody leaving, having worked on their physical fitness routines. Almost everyone is smiling whether coming or going! All that could go away soon, perhaps in a month or two.

It seems like Running Wolf’s sponsoring organizations, Native American Community Clinic and the Indian Health Board are dumping Running Wolf and have quit seeing its value and it’s profound impact on the rest of the Community. Building the program, they received considerable funding from the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community and U-Care of Minnesota, who invested close to $100,000 to get Running Wolf started. Now it seems as if they don’t care if these assets remain in Indian Country or become alienated. Do they even care who they toss the keys to as they focus more on their clinical operations?

As a person who started a diabetes self-management and support program, I cannot imagine how two clinics addressing some of the highest rates of diabetes among their patients could let go of one of the major assets in that fight for better outcomes. It was just a year ago that one of the clinics also dropped its monthly diabetes breakfast which my organization promptly picked up and continues to operate.

Running Wolf Fitness Center is not just for people with diabetes, but when its staff announced the data results for people with diabetes who regularly participate in activities therein, most clinics would envy that kind of transformation for their patients! I take joy in those numbers because some of my program participants are regulars at Running Wolf and are included in those statistics.

Having participated a decade ago in one of the world’s finest fitness and recovery programs: Pritikin Longevity Center just north of Miami, Florida, I got a glimpse of what people with unlimited personal finances can buy in terms of access to health recovery. I still thank Famous Dave (Anderson) for that opportunity! Coming home from that experience, I dreamed of a way in which people of extremely low incomes could have the same opportunity that I had at Pritikin, but right here in our own community. Running Wolf is one key to that dream being fulfilled— access to a program to help regain lost health with assistance from fitness specialists or from free group sessions each week in the studio space. All for ten bucks a month or so.

Although the new healthcare legislation we call “Obamacare” falls far short from what many of us would like to see, one thing they did get right was the idea of not paying clinics for procedures, but rather paying them for results. Thus healthcare organizations gain greater revenues once their patients begin having better health outcomes. Clinics cannot usually make their patients more healthy through increased dosages of medications, visits and tests. Nor can they make them healthier through free water bottles and pedometers and other giveaway “bling”. Instead they must embrace the very real programs like nutrition and cooking classes or physical fitness programs that help patients take greater responsibility and begin to manage their own lives. Instead of this, they want to dump Running Wolf.

Not too long ago, I contacted an old friend from one of the wealthier Minnesota tribes and asked him if his tribe or a group of them might take over Running Wolf on behalf of all the urban Native people who have benefitted from this remarkable asset for Indian Country. They are in the process of giving that idea some consideration. Perhaps in a month of two, we’ll have an answer for Running Wolf.

In order for the Phillips Community to improve the wellness for all residents, we need to have all of the clinics and healthcare programs working cooperatively together. A continued pattern of competition rather than collaboration does little more than increase health disparities and service gaps that do not help us become stronger neighborhoods. We need a collective impact that comes when community organizations’ staff start meeting and working together, extending a network of service so that all residents can be beneficiaries of our efforts to erase the current disparities resulting from uncoordinated care strategies. This means recruiting our student programs and public health organizations to become full participants.

Running Wolf Fitness Center is not the only element in a strategy for wellness in Phillips. But losing an affordable asset is no way to achieve wellness for Phillips either. I want to see more smiles from my window every day, but also want to see all of us step up and continue working toward developing and maintaining those ways to help us become healthy, be it a clinic, a pool, a gym, an exercise studio or an urban farm!

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