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Improving health and lowering costs through "Living Well"

Laura Swanson manages her chronic conditions thanks to the "Living Well" program.

Across Oregon, communities are working to address the suffering and expense that come with chronic diseases.

More than 1.5 million Oregonians, about 61 percent of adults, have a chronic health condition. These can include arthritis, asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or having experienced a stroke. Costs from chronic condition-related hospitalizations in Oregon are estimated to exceed $2.2 billion a year, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services report Keeping Oregonians Healthy.

Laura Swanson of Newport has faced this first hand. She has multiple chronic health conditions, including asthma and diabetes. Swanson says she used to be so fatigued that she would lie in bed for weeks and would tire after only five minutes of walking. Frequent doctor visits were costing her more and more, but not improving her overall health.

She says these conditions consumed her life until she began taking part in Living Well with Chronic Conditions, a program that showed her how to manage these conditions — putting her in control of her health, her life.

"My life turned around 180 degrees," Swanson said.

Living Well is an evidence-based program offered in 27 Oregon counties, managed by DHS and the Oregon Health Authority's Oregon Public Health. Participants attend workshops on topics that include information about how to evaluate new treatments, techniques to deal with fatigue, frustration and depression, how to practice healthful eating, and appropriate exercise.

Like Swanson, like most Living Well participants, have multiple chronic conditions. The majority who complete the program spend fewer days in the hospital, have fewer outpatient and emergency department visits, and experience improvements in their overall health and quality of life, energy level, and ability to participate in life's activities, according to an Oregon State University College of Health and Human Services report on the program's impact. The report further estimates that $6.5 million is saved in hospital costs.

"The Living Well program helps people develop skills to take charge of their health, make lifestyle changes, and work better with their health care team," said Jane Moore, OHA's health promotion and chronic disease prevention manager. "This results in improved well-being and better health outcomes."

More than 5,500 Oregonians participated in Living Well between 2005 and 2010. The program's goal is to make it available to all Oregonians with chronic conditions.

For more information go to the Living Well with Chronic Conditions website.