World Class Health Care on Hilton Head

Health Care on Hilton Head

Beth Cunningham Fries Her Fat!

When Beth Cunningham laughs, it comes from a place deep inside her, a well of joy and light, and you can’t help but laugh too, even when you don’t feel like it. She loves to cook, loves to eat, and loves her grandkids, but not necessarily in that order. She had a long career with a local bank that begged her not to retire. Up until a week ago, she smoked a pack a day, and many years ago, she gave up belts for elastic waistbands. Beth is 76 years old and everyone loves her! That is why I am so upset about the stroke she suffered last week.

World-Class Healthcare

As a long-time healthcare professional here on Hilton Head, I know Beth is receiving the best care available anywhere. We are so blessed that people like Charles Fraser, William Bethea, Dr. Peter LaMotte, and Thomas C. Barnwell Jr., among others, envisioned the healthcare needs of our growing population and did something about it when they did. Places like Hilton Head Regional, Beaufort Memorial, and Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health offer our community state-of-the-art healing that is a far cry from the early 70’s. Back then, if the swinging bridge connecting Hilton Head to the mainland was open and you needed medical attention, you just had to wait!

Beth Cunningham has some left-side paralysis from her stroke and is having trouble speaking. She fell when it happened and cracked her right hip. All in all, from my vantage, I counted no fewer than a dozen clinicians taking wonderful care of her. Between the various medical specialists, four different therapists, and a team of nurses, it was amazing to watch our healthcare system in action, and depressing to see Beth need it so badly.

I know that smoking, overeating, and a sedentary lifestyle created the hypertension that caused Beth’s stroke, and you can say she has no one to blame but herself. But Beth’s habits were engrained by, and are a product of, a culture we foster in America. Our healthcare system, as great as it is, exists to meet the needs our societal culture demands. When our bodies break down, we have made sure that world-class healthcare is there to fix them. It is too bad, however, that as a culture, we continue neither to demand nor expect the very things proven to foster wellness and extend healthy living. Why?

Force of Habit

Doctors often warned Beth about her lifestyle, but culture is a powerful thing. It establishes norms and expectations. Habits become engrained. To build a wellness driven healthcare system, a fundamental shift in our collective cultural attitude must occur. Once our society begins to expect wellness as a cultural norm and demand that government, business, and other influential institutions establish systems and supports that foster wellness first and foremost among all priorities, we will have taken the critical step toward building the healthcare model of the future.

And We Can Do It Here!

Consider the following questions:

  • What if the bank Beth worked for paid a larger portion of her health insurance as an incentive to stop her smoking?
  • What if they teamed with other local businesses to hold smoking cessation classes?
  • What if they paid even more of Beth’s health insurance costs if she kept her body mass index below 25? 
  • What if the federal government reduced Beth’s FICA tax obligations by 10% for keeping her body mass index below 25?
  • What if they gave Beth’s employer a matching deal?
  • What if the federal government gave Beth a $500 tax credit for getting a check-up twice a year?

There are countless incentive and reward ideas like the ones above. Just name an influential institution (churches, schools, business chambers, etc.) and ideas immediately come to mind about how each could play a role in fostering a wellness culture.

When I left Beth’s room, I found myself thinking about these things. It is hard to imagine where Beth would be right now had she spent her life surrounded and supported by a culture of wellness, where healthy lifestyles were both expected and rewarded. She might be out riding bikes with her grandkids.