Susan Simmons of Oak Hill said she wondered at first if it wouldn't be strange to talk about your health with other people there, "but it's been great. A regular doctor would talk with you five or ten minutes, but here you get more than a hour, and we all learn from each other. You get a whole lot more this way. And if you need a private visit, you can get one."
"These groups require a lot of up-front organization, but it's worth it," Stein said. "I do reminder calls and e-mails, so everyone will get their blood work done. But after ten years, it runs pretty smoothly."
Today, they run five chronic disease groups and two chronic pain groups. One group specializes in black lung. "Support from others is so important, no matter what your problem is," Stein said.
Between January 2009 and the end of 2011, the percentage of medical group visit patients with blood sugar in the dangerous zone dropped 14 percent.
Stein and Campbell-Cline deliver little talks on self-care, then group members trade tips on ways to stay healthy when the weather's bad. Walk up and down the stairs three times. Drink lots of water. Get down on the floor and crawl around with your grandkids.
The word "family" keeps coming up. "That's what we are," Shepherd said. "We meet here and talk with each other about what comes up, our sicknesses, and we share back and forth and give each other ideas."
"I take care of myself more because of these meetings," said Charlotte Thomas of Beckley. "Everyone has their input. And the doctor and nurse are not up there looking down at us. They're right here with us, part of us."
As health care reform progresses, insurance is likely to start paying for more prevention activities, Stein said. "But we don't have to wait. This model gives us a way to do it right now."
Reach Kate Long at katel...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1798.
"The Shape We're In" has been supported by a Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism fellowship, administered by the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
What is one thing you can do this winter to stay healthy?
New River Health Clinic's Tuesday medical group family went around the circle and threw in answers to that question: