ST. ALBANS — “For years, the big blue ‘H’ on the highway has stood for ‘hospital,’” said Jonathan Billings, Northwestern Medical Center (NMC)’s Vice President of Planning and Community Relations. “We think it stands for ‘health,’ and a center for health. It really transforms how you look at what the hospital does.”

Just what does the hospital do? “We have a 24/7 emergency department that saves lives,” Billings said. “A family birth center that welcomes the newest members of our community.” Then there are clinical services and in-patient units, caring for the sick and the injured. Diagnostic testing “that helps uncover what’s wrong with folks,” Billings said. Rehabilitation services, restoring people to full function.

And even with those varied services, “we’re still all in that mode of treating people who are sick and in need of immediate care,” Billings said. “That’s a vital role for the community, and it’s the heart and soul of what we do.”

But NMC has taken an unusual approach to providing immediate care. “We’re not waiting for you to get sick and need us,” Billings said. “We’re actually engaging you early, and saying, ‘Let’s not even let you bother getting sick.’ We’re stepping towards helping healthy people stay healthy.

“Look, here’s the old mindset: Someone would contract diabetes and come to the hospital with foot ulcers, or needing an amputation or something of that nature. Now we’ve stepped back from that to ‘No, once you get diabetes, our diabetes educators will help you learn to self-manage your diabetes so you don’t get into those kind of nasty situations.’

“And then we stepped back a little further, to ‘No, our primary care offices will work with you, and we’ll be able to keep you from getting that far into your diabetes.’ And what we’re saying now is, ‘Let’s grab healthy people and keep them from getting diabetes in the first place. Let’s get people physically active, and help people with what they’re eating.’”

Billings ascribes the transformation to statistics suggesting 70 percent of chronic conditions can be prevented.

For the full story, pick up a copy of Thursday’s Messenger or subscribe to our digital edition.