Kathy Ireland’s patient was a working mom ready to make some changes in her life. In the last year she had gained weight and was diagnosed as prediabetic. But the demands of work, family and everyday living made it hard for her to focus on her own health. So Ireland, above, a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Codman Square Health Center in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, wrote her patient a Dot Rx prescription.
There was no medication involved – instead, her patient now had access to a peer coach and an array of no- or low-cost neighborhood resources and activities she and her family could use to access healthy food, become more physically active and spend time enjoying the outdoors.
The Dot Rx program is a unique community collaborative we developed in partnership with six local nonprofits: Codman Square Health Center, the Daily Table (a nonprofit grocery store), the Dorchester YMCA, Healthworks Community Fitness, the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Outdoors Rx program, and Union Capital Boston, which recruits and trains the peer coaches. Codman Square patients who are Dorchester residents and have at least one child under 18 living with them are eligible for Dot Rx referrals.
Charndra McKay was one of the first peer coaches to work with individuals and families that received Dot Rx prescriptions. “I’m there to get them on board, set realistic health goals, recommend Dot Rx activities that will help them the most, and act as a cheerleader,” she said. “What’s special is that I can give them individual attention and follow up in ways their doctors or nutritionists don’t have the time to.”
She and her fellow coaches are also able to draw upon their own life experiences to help participants. “We live in the community and we’re working on our own health and wellness goals, so we can relate to their challenges,” said McKay, below. She even recruited her own daughter to help out with a family that wanted to be more active but could not find time to get to the YMCA. “My daughter loves the children’s dance and exercise videos on YouTube, so we shared some with the family and now they’re really into it! I’ve been surprised by how willing people are to let me into their lives, even though I’m not a doctor or a nurse.”
Taneisha Davis, featured in the video above, is one of the more than 300 Codman patients who were referred to a peer coach during the program’s first year. “My relationship with my coach is very good,” she said. “Having someone call you and say, ‘Okay, let’s meet up and go for a walk’ – that is really helpful. It encouraged me to get up and move. It encouraged me and my family to eat healthier and … just to be better!”
Blue Cross is providing $781K annually in financial grants and pro bono support for developing, running and evaluating the program. Nicole Pizzi, who is a wellness specialist at Blue Cross, spent five months working with Dot Rx after she was selected for the company’s 2018 William C. Van Faasen Community Service Sabbatical Program. Her responsibilities included program management, training the peer coaches and matching individuals and families with coaches and activities.
“Dot Rx offers wonderful resources but people are so busy, they can have a hard time deciding which would be most helpful to them and their family,” said Pizzi, left. “That’s where the peer coaches can be invaluable. They offer a unique kind of support and accountability: It’s someone in their community who understands how complicated their life can be and the challenges they face. Dot Rx gives participants permission to do something for themselves and their family members, to make their health a priority.”
Codman Square Health Center’s Kathy Ireland was involved in Dot Rx from the beginning: introducing it to her fellow clinicians and making it part of their referral process and patients’ electronic medical records. “It’s a great program and the providers love it,” she said. “Our patients want to be healthy and our providers enjoy being able to make a referral that can connect them to healthy resources right in the neighborhood.”
“Dot Rx is one of the strongest collaborations I’ve ever been a part of,” Ireland added. “All of the partners are very transparent about what’s working and what isn’t so that we can continue to fine-tune it. The goal is to create a model and guidelines that can be used by funders and nonprofits in other communities around the state and across the country.”