Belmont Health Collaborative Set to Begin Wellness Conversation

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For Stacey Hammerlind and Lisa Gibalerio, the health of a community is based on what it knows not just how it feels.

The founders of the newly-formed Belmont Health Collaborative are hoping their organization will become a clearinghouse for all things related to wellness in Belmont.

“Our motto is ‘to inform, empower and engage,’” said Hammerlind, who is a registered nurse and certified care manager.

“The main goal is to be collaborative, to work with any organization in town that is interested in partnering up or to invite people who would like to speak about an issue they are passionate about,” said Hammerlind.

The pair saw a growing gap in health education services as traditional avenues from the town’s Health Department to the school department’s health employees are being stretched thin with greater responsibilities placed on their time.

“It seems that we are not providing information on subjects like nutrition, stress or AD/HD in kids in a thorough manner,” said Gibalerio, who earned a master’s of public health at Boston University and has a long background in health education.

“There’s an amazing amount of resources and sometimes it takes a little bit of hunting to find them,” said Hammerlind, saying the BHC’s web site will hopefully become the local resource on all health issues.

By leading interactive seminars, small group discussion and expert instruction, “we can address … issues that impact everyone in town from the young to the [elderly],” said Hammerlind.

She and Gibalerio will be looking to nearby centers such as McLean Hospital for mental health and Mt. Auburn Hospital and other sites for medical issues, solicit local residents with health or medical backgrounds or discover people who simply are passionate about a subject.

“There are people who have been affected by a health issue, such as suicide, and [might] be willing to be part of a panel discussion on the effects a suicide had on their family,” said Gibalerio.

The collaborative can also quickly pivot to answer questions when there is a flare-up of a disease or a rise in mental health issues in a targeted community.

“If there is an outbreak of, let’s say meningitis, we could begin the discussion as well has find experts on the subject,” said Gibalerio.

The partners have been working on a calendar with each month dedicated to a wide-ranging idea, such as loss whether it be the death of a loved one or if a spouse is suffering from dementia.

“We want to keep it fairly broad, so we don’t eliminate anyone from the discussion,” said Hammerlind.

The BHC’s first event is Wednesday, Oct. 1 when hip hop artist Juma Inniss will talk to Belmont High School students on media literacy at the Belmont Media Center. On Thursday, Oct. 2, Erin McNeill, President of Media Literacy Now, will talk to parents concerned about their children, the internet and other forms of media.

In determining future topics, the collaborative will focus on the answers to a short online survey on the BHC’s website.

“The whole impetus for the survey was to hear what the community wants to focus on and learn more about,” said Gibalerio.

While advocating for health education, the collaborative will likely take the role of being a facilitator including hosting events on emotional issues – such as the need for childhood vaccination – “where people of differing opinions can get together and have a discussion that is moderated,” said Hammerlind.

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