Launching our Parkscriptions pilot program throughout Whatcom County has witnessed growing success. To review: In 2017, we had 5 health care providers in our pilot program; in early 2018, we had increased our engagement to 40 providers to help us develop the program; at the end of 2018, we are proud to have increased our numbers to 78 providers currently engaged in the program. We give providers the resources and tools necessary to prescribe time and activity outdoors for people in our community who need it most- those suffering from mental and physical maladies. The total tracking from our monitoring team was 1,ooo Parkscriptions written in 2018.
We face challenges in continuing to help providers find ways to work Parkscriptions into busy appointments, as well as finding simple ways to track the number of prescriptions both made and filled. Through our provider surveys, we learned that patient response is positive overall; half the providers are making verbal parkscriptions without using the website and prescribing for a variety of reasons. We found that 50% were for physical health, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, pain, and injury recovery and 75% were for mental health, mainly for anxiety and depression.
The providers are representing the following practices: Family Care Network Clinics– Whatcom Family Medicine, Family Health Associates, Ferndale Family Medical Center, Squalicum Family Medicine and North Sound Family Medicine. Naturopaths– Dr. Paul de Jong, Naturopathic Physician & Acupuncturist and Bellingham Natural Family Medicine. Mental Health Counselors– Lindsay Poynter, Keith Poynter, Amy McKenney, Elizabeth Snyder, Bespoke Counseling. Community Health Unity Care NW. Body Work Baker to Bay Physical Therapy & Wellness, Bellingham Physical Therapy, Fyzical Therapy and Balance Center, BioMechanix Acupuncture, Natural Way Chiropractic and Prime Sports Institute. Employee Assistance Program– Health Promotion Northwest, a program of PeaceHealth.
In partnership with Park Rx America in Washington DC, WhatcomParkFinder.org, now has a simple tool for providers to send park information to patients as a reminder and for patients to log their visits to the park. We have a list of activity groups and outdoor programs for people to participate in at low or no cost. The website also has a resource library of articles and videos on the health benefits of nature. Parkscriptions posters and rack cards are also available in Spanish and English at providers clinics.
Our Parkscriptions Team has visited and assessed 250 public parks which are listed on our platform WhatcomParkFinder.org. These include local city parks of Bellingham, Blaine, Birch Bay, Ferndale, and Lynden; Regional parks include Port of Bellingham, Whatcom County, Whatcom Land Trust, and Lummi Island Land Trust; State public lands for Department of Natural Resources, Washington State Parks, and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife; Federal lands listed include National Park Service, North Cascades National Park,and US Forest Service.
Our Advisory Team consisted of April Claxton and Todd Elsworth – Recreation Northwest; Alex Stone and Steph Stroud – National Park Service, RTCA; Kelly Molaski – Whatcom Health Department; Michele Anderson – Family Care Network; Melissa Bianconi – City of Bellingham Parks Department; Erin Uloth – National Forest Service; Rocio Castillo-Foell – Sea Mar Community Health Center; Stephanie Coffey – Indian Health Board; Nathan Carnes – technical advisor; Brian Roche – Recreation Northwest Board of Directors; Katrina Lyon – graphic designer; Elizabeth Nelson – Chuckanut Health Foundation.
We were proud to publish our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan to help guide the program as it expands into new segments of our populations. We recognize and honor that communities and individuals have different ways of experiencing nature and challenges in going outside. Working with diverse members and partnerships, Parkscriptions must be collaboratively tailored to community needs and culture, with the priority on inclusion and access for those who are most vulnerable to health disparities, are “underexposed to nature” and those who are underrepresented recreating in the outdoors.
We believe that all deserve to feel safe and enjoy the right to use our public lands. Parkscriptions’ commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is key to increasing program participation and overall community health, and can grow advocacy and stewardship for public lands and recreation across multiple demographics.
In 2019, we will be launching a county-wide Public Health Campaign to have the public use our website WhatcomParkFinder.org to “self-prescribe” to find new parks for themselves to get outside. The campaign will also encourage more providers to engage in the program through our messaging and at the request of their patients. Our focus demographic will be on the identified population in the Community Health Improvement Plan of underserved seniors in our community.
We will kick off the public health campaign with a soft launch in February with a table at our Recreation Northwest EXPO, with 2,000 attendees. The main event that will highlight the program and parks will be on National Parks RX Day on Sunday, April 28th at our Whatcom Parkscriptions Day hosted at multiple parks featuring a mixture of different free activities and programs including: Walk with a Doc, A Walk in the Park, Park Ranger Walk, Forest Bathing, PediCab with YMCA, and Fit School.
With 2 years of our pilot program behind us, we are looking forward to this comprehensive launch throughout Whatcom County and for the program to become contagious and get more people outdoors enjoying the benefits of nature.
We are grateful for your support. Thank you. Please consider a donation to support Parkscriptions.
As Executive Director of Recreation Northwest, Todd Elsworth promotes outdoor recreation and brings community together to enjoy, preserve and improve the places where we play. His decades of extensive event production, marketing and writing experience propel this passion. You might bump into him and his daughter Violet while they’re biking, hiking, paddling or skiing in the beautiful Pacific Northwest.