Program puts health care into action

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(Courtesy photo) An all-ages group prepares to hit the trail as part of the Walk With a Doc program being offered through the Panhandle health District with the help of the local medical community.

SANDPOINT — Local residents and members of the area’s medical community have teamed up as part of a worldwide movement to promote health and communication through the Walk With a Doc program.

The concept was started in 2005, when Dr. David Sabgir, a cardiologist in Columbus, Ohio, decided to try something different to encourage patients to get out and get moving. After hitting the wall in trying to get people to listen to his advice in the office, Sabgir put out an open invitation for them to go for a walk with him in a local park on a spring Saturday morning.

To his surprise, more than 100 people showed up, energized and ready to exercise.

Since that first outing, Walk With a Doc has turned into a global, grassroots effort, with nearly 500 chapters worldwide, including 26 Walk With a Future Doc chapters. In Bonner County, the program has taken root in both Sandpoint and Clark Fork as part of a coalition that began in 2017.

“So now we have a way for anyone in the community to come and walk,” said Nanci Jenkins, a registered dietician nutritionist with the Panhandle Health District. “And the bonus is, you get access to a health care provider — for free.”

Wait a minute — a person can get exercise and pepper a health care professional with questions at the same time? Where do we sign up?

Jenkins was hired by the district to implement a federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) grant that included forming a community coalition on health care — now established as the Bonner County Coalition for Health. That group includes health care professionals, city employees, day care providers, senior advocates and even gardeners, all sharing the goal of improving the overall health of the community.

As the coalition brainstormed, word came from Clark Fork about the Walk With a Doc program. It was also Clark Fork that led the way forward, based on the twice-weekly walks being hosted by Dr. Heather Margaret in that community.

In Sandpoint, Jane Hoover, a family nurse practitioner with more than 20 years experience in family medicine, leads a Tuesday evening walk that starts at 5:30 p.m. Hoover is one of 18 ‘Docs’ who walk on a rotating basis, their ranks made up of physicians, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, physical therapists, registered nurses and mental health professionals.

According to Jenkins, all of these individuals have expertise and information to share with fellow walkers.

“You might talk to a cardiologist one time and a family practice doc or an OB/GYN another,” she said. “There’s a wealth of expertise in this community and the big benefit is that you get to talk with them outside of the limited time they have in their offices.”

The turnout for the walks range from a couple of people to a crowd, depending on the season and the weather. That said, the Walk With a Doc sessions take place rain or shine all year-round. With spring promising more favorable conditions, the number of participants tends to grow. After October and heading into winter, Jenkins pointed out, the turnout is smaller.

“That’s been frustrating for me,” she said, adding that the health care professionals are on hand no matter how large or small the number of walkers might be. “Through those months, we might have only two people show up. But those two people are committed, so we do it.”

Conversely, many of Hoover’s evening walks have been known to attract a dozen or more walkers for an after-work amble in nicer weather.

Along with the Bonner County Coalition for Health, Panhandle Health District has become an important catalyst for spreading the word about this program and others it offers to county residents.

“Panhandle Health District is getting more involved in doing more health care,” Jenkins said.

To learn more about the parent organization that sparked Walk With a Doc, visit walkwithadoc.org

For a schedule of local walk times and locations, visit phd1.idaho.gov or find the Bonner County Coalition for Health page on Facebook. Information: njenkins@phd1.idaho.gov

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