Thursday, 17 January 2013 09:57

New Medicine Hat bariatric clinic set to serve southern Alberta

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Barb Lockhart, director of primary care and chronic disease management, Alberta Health Services South Zone, speaks about the role of the Bariatric Speciality Clinic based in Medicine Hat, but serving all of southern Alberta. Barb Lockhart, director of primary care and chronic disease management, Alberta Health Services South Zone, speaks about the role of the Bariatric Speciality Clinic based in Medicine Hat, but serving all of southern Alberta. Photo by Rose Sanchez

Residents in southern Alberta dealing with obesity can now receive the help they need to lose weight and get the tools to lead a healthier lifestyle in a new clinic based in Medicine Hat.

The Bariatric Specialty Clinic has been operating since the spring of 2012, but was officially opened Jan. 10. It is one of five clinics across Alberta that uses a team approach to help individuals dealing with obesity and the resulting health conditions.
“We have spent a lot of time treating the consequences of obesity and we didn’t have, until recently, the places where we treat obesity itself,” says Dr. Arya Sharma, Alberta Health Services (AHS) medical director for the provincial obesity program and an internationally-recognized expert on obesity treatment and research.
In Canada, one in four adults are obese while one in 10 children fall into the obese category. The extra weight carried by these people contribute to a long list of problems including sleep apnea, arthritis, muscular-skeletal issues, cancers and also impact quality of life, income and the cost for employers with absenteeism from work.
The Bariatric Specialty Clinic takes a team approach to helping obese patients. Located in Medicine Hat, the clinic includes physicians, registered nurses, dietitians, mental health specialists and rehabilitation professionals who work together to provide weight management plans for patients. About half the time, that plan does include surgery.
Dr. Sharma says the general public will question why obese people just don’t exercise more and eat less.
“Simply trying to exercise, eat less and control food intake — it’s not a good control for most people,” he explains. “You will lose five to 15 pounds, but to lose 50 or 100 or 200 pounds, diet and exercise are not going to work there. They haven’t cured obesity, they’ve just done weight loss ... and the weight always comes back.”
The reasons behind weight gain are different for each person and can include genetics, mental health problems, not getting enough sleep or dealing with stress.
“You have to look at every patient individually,” he adds. “Bariatric surgery is successful, but those patients need support.”
The new Bariatric Specialty Clinic is the place for obese individuals to get that support.
“Alberta Health Services has to be commended for taking this on and providing these resources. It makes a lot of sense to put money into a clinic rather than into treating the consequences of obesity.”
Barb Lockhart, director of primary care and chronic disease management, says the clinic provides a multi-disciplinary team of professionals who work with patients to develop a plan to address their individual concerns.
“This isn’t a weight loss clinic, it’s about helping people with their weight issues.”
Patients learn about food and exercise and discover why they are making the choices they are that could be contributing to their obesity.
“We’re looking at treating the whole person and understanding what the underlying issues are.”
Physicians across southern Alberta are encouraged to refer their patients to the Bariatric Specialty Clinic in Medicine Hat. Those patients will have to travel to the city a few times, but officials hope to minimize the amount of travel.
“We’re looking at arrangements that can be made to support a person in their own community. We want to support the individual where they live,” says Lockhart.
It is expected most patients will be involved with the clinic for about a year. Then they are transitioned back into their communities and working with their family physicians to continue their success.
“They know what healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle is all about. They’re better informed,” explains Dr. Adeel Azam, medical lead of the Bariatric Specialty Clinic.
By the end of December, the clinic had already had 250 referrals and with a new surgeon coming on board, it is expected that will increase.
Medicine Hat’s Bonnie Eleason, 62, has been with the clinic for about eight months. So far, she has lost 28 pounds.
“I’ve been fighting a weight problem for about 20 years,” she says.
She tried many diets which would work, but the weight would always creep back on. Living with Multiple Sclerosis, a side effect of carrying too much weight has been joint problems. Eleason has osteoarthritis in both knees and went through one knee replacement surgery in August of 2011. She has been told she needs another knee replacement.
“Every pound I can take off is going to postpone that surgery farther into the future.”
She has high praise for the team of people helping her understand the reasons behind her struggle with weight and helping her learn how to take that weight off. She also likes the accountability of having to weigh on a regular basis, keep a food journal and wear a pedometer.
Through her journey, she learned she is not a candidate for surgery — somewhat to her relief. She believes it is the team approach which has helped her succeed with her weight loss this time.
“I feel empowered — like I can do this. There has been a mindset change. You have to see results and start thinking differently.”
Dr. Azam is hopeful physicians across southern Alberta will refer patients to the clinic in Medicine Hat so more people can see the success Eleason has seen. He says it’s not just about weight loss, it’s about learning to live a healthier lifestyle.
“I’ve come to realize what personal challenges these patients face,” he says. “At the end of the day, we want (them to have) better health, be making better choices and getting outside for some fresh air and a walk every day.”

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor

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