Caitlin Andrews, left, and Jamie Easterly lead discussion during a Living Well Alaska session earlier this month.

Local health care services are working toward helping sufferers of chronic disease stay out of hospitals.

PeaceHealth wants to reduce hospital readmissions in Ketchikan, and a $3.1 million grant from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services has funded several steps toward the goal, including hiring a five-person, full-time outpatient team. The latest program is Living Well Alaska, a course for people with chronic diseases.

Caitlin Andrews is the outpatient social worker for PeaceHealth. She helps lead the class.

“The main focus of it is reducing unnecessary hospital admissions,” she said. “It’s been obvious that there’s a huge need for the care coordinators here. It’s a nontraditional nursing role, it’s just really cool to see them connect with patients and feel more supported.”

The six-session course encourages preventative behavior and endorses healthier lifestyles to avoid readmission to hospitals. It’s a product of Stanford University, and focuses on individual progress and lifestyle changes to help deal with chronic disease.

“The class really lets the patient be in charge of their own care. It’s a self-management class, so they learn how to better manage their condition in combination with their health care team, so it gives them the power over their own health and how they can change it and help it,” Andrews said.

PeaceHealth plans to host two more of the six-week courses on Prince of Wales Island and in Ketchikan in October and January. The inaugural class is currently in session and has a dozen participants, whose conditions range from arthritis to bipolar disorder to diabetes.

“That’s why the program is so neat because it can apply to anyone with whatever health condition they consider chronic – it could be a mental health diagnosis, diabetes, Crohn’s disease, arthritis. That’s why it’s so perfect for our population because it fits everybody,” Andrews said.

During the class, participants set goals to improve their health, relying on the group to help with suggestions and encouragement to keep up the progress. They also do exercises to improve their communication skills, and their ability to articulate the needs and struggles they face because of their conditions.

Registration for the next course is open, but space is limited. Contact PeaceHealth for more information.