By Megan Tackett
Sopris Sun Staff
It’s officially open enrollment season, and those “hunting” for affordable healthcare plans in the Valley may be in for less-than-pleasant, though not surprising, sticker shock: premiums for plans not sponsored by an employer are about 27 percent higher than last year — and that’s just on average.
It’s a symptom of a systemic issue, at least according to Drs. Lauren Whittaker and Jade Wimberley, co-owners of Lux Wellness Center in Carbondale.
“Nobody has the answers right now of what is the solution for close to 300 million people in America to have access to healthcare that not only just treats disease models but empowers and educates people to be a part of the process,” Wimberley said of the current context. And while concrete solutions remain elusive, the doctors are optimistic that a conversation is starting, and they’re not shying away from it.
“I think it’s also important to be sensitive and respectful for the system as it is right now,” Whittaker said, emphasizing the need for transparency in order to objectively analyze that system. “And we’re going to have to include all the faults and benefits of having [the current American] healthcare model — what’s working, what’s not — and include that to transcend to the next model. I think here at this wellness center, we want to collaborate and so we’re doing that by starting conversations,” she said.
Wimberley recently published her most recent contribution to that conversation, which is now available on Amazon. The title, “The Health Revolution: Give Yourself the Healthcare You Deserve,” isn’t subtle nor is it intended to be. The call to action applies to both individuals’ relationships with their bodies and our societal relationship with our healthcare system.
“What are we willing to really do as a culture and as a society?” Wimberley said of some of the central questions posed in her book. “Let’s subsidize our local, organic farmers. This is such a great value, to look at how government could subsidize all these young farmers. And if all of us are eating even 50 percent local, and there’s education involved in all socioeconomic people, not just the upper middle class and upper [class]. I’m not talking just the [upper] 10 percent of people; I’m talking everybody would have access to that. That’s the way that I see a way to start to reverse trends,” she continued. “I don’t know how to do it. I want to be part of the conversation, and that’s my hope with the book.”
Her book also serves as a sort of self-help book regarding diet and lifestyle, acting as a general invitation to the reader to reconsider his or her definition of optimal health through the naturopathic lens, she said.
That integrative approach to health is at the core of the mission at Lux Wellness Center. Whittaker, a licensed chiropractor, and Wimberley, a naturopathic doctor, combine their backgrounds to offer patients a “bridge-the-gap” experience that utilizes several modalities in their patient care, as Whittaker put it.
“I think that both Jade and I have had individual experience with the whole gambit and recognize that wow, it’s actually about transparency and seeing the gifts in all of these modalities and therapies,” she said. “We talk a lot about a therapeutic order. It’s part of our philosophy, where there are tiers [of healing] and steps to go through, and it includes the Western [medical practices] to the more traditional therapies. We’ve studied them all to a certain extent, so we are able to have that conversation with people. It is inclusive.”
Patient education and empowerment are the mainstays for their practices, both doctors agreed. Instead of merely treating symptoms when something is wrong, they encourage a more consultative, ongoing care system that helps patients maintain their ideal optimal health.
“That’s the piece I’m trying to integrate,” Wimberley said of her naturopathic work. “Again, it goes back to the person sitting here. Empowering them to really understand their lab work, their diagnosis, their options.”
And while their integrative philosophy focuses on health, that doesn’t mean that patients should feel hesitant to come into the wellness center when they are displaying symptoms.
“I love acute medicine. A lot of times people forget that naturopathic medicine is great for acute medicine,” Wimberley said. Recently, she recalled, a patient called complaining of a cough that the woman was sure would linger until mid-January.
“We put together a botanical tincture and gave her some to-do-at-home hydrotherapy like throat wraps, and four days later, her cough was gone,” Wimberley said. “In [the patient’s] story, her cough was going to be there through the holidays.”
Those stories regarding disease don’t have to be written in stone, she said. “We as Americans get really attached with our diagnoses, often. It helps define us, and that’s just a part of the culture. I try to change that, that language.”
That said, patients should not be concerned that Wimberley or Whittaker would ever avoid suggesting medications, should the situation call for them. “I’m the opposite of anti-medication. It’s incredibly important,” Wimberley said. “But I am very opposed to over-medication. And that’s often what I’m working with: somebody is 70 and they’re on seven medications or so and they don’t want to be, and they don’t feel like they have a choice. They have a choice here. Ultimately, it’s important to empower but also do it in the right way, so the patient’s safe.”
That’s where having diverse backgrounds in myriad modalities of medicine comes into play. Instead of a five-minute consultation, as is often the case with more traditional general practitioners in insurance companies’ networks, Wimberley often spends at least an hour in an initial consultation, and Whittaker’s consultations usually last about 40 minutes. While patients at Lux Wellness Center won’t be able to use their insurance, they can pay for services with their Health Savings Account.
“HSA is great, so that’s a step in the right direction,” Wimberley said of the current ways healthcare can be made more accessible, adding that more work needs to be done. “A lot of integrative doctors choose to not be in the system because of reimbursement and how slow it is. You’re seeing more and more medical doctors leave the insurance business and then set up practices like [Lux Wellness Center],” she said.
But that’s not the future she or Whittaker want for their field or their patients. That’s why, while incredibly comfortable in her office, Wimberley in particular is stepping out of her comfort zone and into a more public sphere. Earlier this year, she was a contender to fill Katrina Byars’ vacancy on the Carbondale Board of Trustees and may run in a future election. She’s hoping to speak on public panels now that her book is published. “That is me stepping into a very uncomfortable place, but I think all of us need to get a little uncomfortable right now and politely challenge the systems and begin to think differently.”
Those paying almost a third more for their health insurance this year will likely agree.