Healthy eating and active living opportunities are essential to the quality of life for every single individual regardless of their socioeconomic status. This is true for those who experience substance use disorders too. In fact, healthy eating and active living are life skills that people in recovery need to lead a quality, sober life. That’s one reason why Eat Smart Move More South Carolina (ESMMSC) decided to fund Keystone Substance Abuse Services’ Let’sGo! 3.0 mini-grant proposal.
“The Keystone project is an example of ESMMSC trying to address equity and access,” said Kelsey Sanders, MPH, CHES, community initiatives manager at ESMMSC. “When I think of equity, I think of giving people what they need to be successful. Patients at Keystone needed a safe and clean walking path to achieve success in managing not only their recovery, but also their physical and mental health.”
Making the Case for Keystone
When ESMMSC reviewers scored the Keystone mini-grant application high, staff took a serious look at the application and weighed the benefits of choosing to fund an organization that doesn’t reach a large number of people compared to a proposal that does. Historically, ESMMSC funds organizations that can have a large impact on community health, but the Keystone application gave staff a new perspective.
Keystone is York County’s largest provider of treatment and prevention services. It’s also one of four public
withdrawal management programs in the state, so they often serve patients from across the state of South Carolina, not just York County residents. Also, many of their patients are either uninsured or underinsured, meaning patients largely represent a low socioeconomic class – a group at high risk for physical and mental health problems.
“If patients can learn physical activity habits during their stay, these individuals can have a sustainable option for reducing depression and anxiety, increasing self-efficacy, decreasing stress, increasing coping skills, and ultimately providing individuals with a positive, sober alternative activity,” said Danielle Russell, executive director of Keystone Substance Abuse Services. “Not only will physical activity help in their recovery, but it can teach individuals lifelong skills that will reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve optimal health and wellness.”
Despite this clear link between physical and mental health, organizations that address mental health and physical health largely remain siloed from each other. This project, while a nontraditional partnership for ESMMSC, represented an opportunity to bridge the connection between mental and physical health. ESMMSC staff saw the Keystone project as a direct link to social determinants of health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion – ESMMSC’s core values. By funding the Keystone project, ESMMSC staff realized the lasting impact they could have on people with substance use disorders and those close to them.
From Mud Pit to Clean Path
Keystone had a partially paved walking trail loop (.25 mile) on their campus, but it was rundown and oftentimes turned into a mud pit when it rained. Even under the unsafe conditions, counselors would try to get patients outside as often as possible for some extra stimulation and therapy. Keystone staff wanted more for their patients and themselves. They wanted to complete the loop so that their patients could thrive, and their staff could also focus on their personal health.
A Keystone inpatient counselor said, “One of the biggest complaints I get from some of the patients is that they are feeling lethargic once they start to feel better. Keeping them indoors with minimal exercise seems to exaggerate those symptoms. Many have specifically said that just getting their body moving and being outdoors helps them feel better overall (physically and mentally). We try when it’s nice out just to get them to take a walk, and often those are some of the best groups we have. It seems to support the theory that physical activity and sunshine provide essential therapeutic components.”
According to their application, physical activity is a part of an individual’s life that is often lost during their addiction. Physical activity can help individuals find their path to recovery. Evidence shows that physical activity can help provide structure to their days, generate positivity, distract them from cravings, and heal their body and brain.
A New Path to Coping
Keystone completed their walking trail loop, and now, patients and staff have a safe place to exercise, to meet, and to cope. All of the staff interviewed indicated they take their patients outside to walk the loop, and they’re seeing positive changes.
An Inpatient Clinical Counselor said, “I take patients out there as often as possible. Walking, having group time and individual time with patients helps decrease stress and anxiety and patients open up more.”
An Inpatient Technician and a Substance Abuse Specialist said, “I will take patients out on the trail in the afternoons and after dinner, if the weather is good. They are so glad to get outside. There are times when they compete and walk very fast, skip or hop to exercise, and have fun.”
Employees Benefit Too
ESMMSC knows the importance of employee health and wellness – that includes mental health too. Worksite wellness programs and policies lead to improved health of employees, decreased health care costs, and improved productivity. So, when the Keystone application mentioned worksite wellness, it was one more very good reason to fund their proposed project.
Before the project was completed, employees noted having to jump mud puddles and other obstacles on the loop or just choosing to walk the parking lot near a busy street. Now, they find the loop to be pleasing and beneficial.
“I use the path for afternoon walks and utilize the entire track. If our power goes out, or I find time I use it at other times as well,” said the Outpatient Programs Administrator. “Walking was the recommendation of my heart doctor. It helps clear my mind. I step away from the computer and it helps me stay focused on the moment.”
“I go for a walk every afternoon around 2:00. It gets me ready for the final two hours of the workday to get energized for the afternoon. One to two laps revitalize me. I wish I had time to walk more,” said an Outpatient Clinical Counselor.
The .25-mile walking trail loop can be used by people of all ability levels, and it gives patients and staff an opportunity to walk, jog, or just enjoy fresh air. What’s next for the Keystone walking trail loop? Build fitness stations along the trail to increase strength and conditioning, and possibly lighting for late evening walks.