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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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Rochester Clinic empowers patients to 'take control of their own health'

Rochester Clinic empowers patients to 'take control of their own health'

Treatment of chronic disease in the U.S. accounts for 86 percent of healthcare costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some of these issues may be remedied by simple lifestyle changes and a movement away from fast food diets and sedentary lifestyles. Rochester Clinic, an eight-year-old practice in this city, looks to address these health problems through both conventional and lifestyle medicine.

“We started Rochester Clinic because we see the need in the community,” says Dr. Jengyu Lai, its Chief Manager.

When the clinic was founded, Rochester already had a large institution addressing medical issues. However, Lai explains, no entity was really tackling the health of the community as a whole. Rochester Clinic aims to fill this gap with a range of preventative care, education and conventional medical services.

Two years after the business first opened, retired Mayo Clinic physician Dr. Thomas Harman came to its doors looking to practice medicine again. Through his own personal journey dealing with aging and a diabetes diagnosis, Dr. Harman educated himself about nutrition and lifestyle changes. He came to Rochester Clinic specifically to practice lifestyle medicine, a field that addresses all aspects of health including diet, exercise, socialization and stress reduction.

 Dr. Thomas Harman

Dr. Thomas Harman

Intrigued with Dr. Harman’s methods, Rochester Clinic Chief Financial Officer Meiping Liu attended the American College of Lifestyle Medicine’s annual conference a few years later. She returned to Rochester as a certified Complete Health Improvement Program (CHIP) instructor, ready to teach and promote lifestyle medicine in the community.

'Accessible to everyone'

CHIP, Liu explains, is a 30-year-old, evidence-based program that has helped over 90,000 people seek wellness. CHIP does not focus on calorie counting or food reduction. It instead promotes a whole food, plant-based diet with less sugar, oil and salt. The beauty of this program, Liu says, is that it’s sustainable in everyday life and can be achieved regardless of income level. CHIP is accessible to everyone.

Before unleashing CHIP on the Rochester community as a whole, Liu first tested the concept among the Rochester Clinic staff. At the time, they had one staff member with a liver and heart transplant. She could barely swallow food and was vomiting from the medications she was ingesting. After three months following CHIP, the staff member was able to eat more and reduce her nausea, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

After seeing considerable benefits in this small test group, Liu launched CHIP on a larger scale in Rochester. Four years later, she’s taught the program to 14 different groups and has graduated 140 people from the CHIP program. These graduates can then go out and spread CHIP education in their homes and communities.

 Left to right: Dr. Jengyu Lai and Meiping Liu

Left to right: Dr. Jengyu Lai and Meiping Liu

Today, Rochester Clinic helps people make simple changes to their lifestyle, reduce their dependency on medications and improve their overall level of wellness. “We have people that see not only their health improve, but that they have control of their own health,” says Lai.

They’ve seen an 89-year-old patient drop her blood sugar levels from 300 mg/dL to 115 mg/dL just by simple lifestyle change. Dr. Harman has personally witnessed individual diabetics wean themselves off insulin injections after just two weeks of adopting a plant-based diet.

To further promote and implement total health and wellness in the community, Liu opened a nonprofit called Lotus Health Foundation. Lotus Health is a grassroots effort to improve health and wellness through education, research and community partnerships.

Community of Wellness

Lotus Health Foundation will host its second annual Community of Wellness Week from March 9 - 16 to “enable community members to adopt a healthy lifestyle.”

The Community of Wellness Week features talks from two renowned figures in lifestyle medicine: Drs. Hans Diehl and Neal Barnard.

Two notable speakers for Community of Wellness Week

Dr. Diehl is the founder of CHIP and has co-authored lifestyle medicine books that have been translated into thirty-two different languages. Additionally, Dr. Diehl was chosen as “One of America’s 20 Superheroes of Health” and was also invited by the royal family in Saudi Arabia to implement lifestyle medicine into their hospital system.

Dr. Barnard, Liu says, “is a superstar.” He is President and Founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. He’s been a guest on The Dr. Oz Show, CBS This Morning, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. He’s also been featured in several lifestyle medicine documentaries such as Forks Over Knives and Eating You Alive. Dr. Barnard has written eighteen different books, including the New York Times bestseller Power Foods for the Brain.

Liu hopes these big-name speakers will help to educate Rochester about lifestyle medicine and raise awareness of the work that Rochester Clinic and Lotus Health Foundation are already doing in the community. Major events for Community of Wellness Week, including talks by Drs. Diehl and Barnard, will take place March 15 and 16 in Rochester.

The events on Thursday, March 15 are free and open to everyone in the community interested in learning more about lifestyle medicine and how to improve their own health and wellness. Programming this day includes a talk from Dr. Barnard addressing how diet intervention can improve type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. He will give the same talk during Mayo Clinic Grand Rounds, so that “everybody … will receive the first-hand education ... the same that the physician receives at Mayo Clinic,” Liu explains.

 Dr. Barnard contributes to the  Forks Over Knives  series

Dr. Barnard contributes to the Forks Over Knives series

A Lifestyle Medicine Symposium will take place on Friday March 16, which is of particular interest for medical and corporate health and wellness professionals. Talks during the symposium will address the benefits of lifestyle medicine and the importance of wellness programs within institutions to save medical dollars. CEU Certification of Attendance is available for the Lifestyle Medicine Symposium through Winona State University.

The Community of Wellness Week will end Friday night with a Celebration Gala at the Rochester Art Center to benefit the educational efforts of Lotus Health Foundation. A gourmet, four-course plant-based meal will be offered. Drs. Barnard and Diehl will both wrap up the Gala with keynote addresses. Tickets are available online.

Photography by William Forsman

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