Nurse Michelle Bowman harbors an unusual wish.
"I’m eager to get older so I can gain wisdom," she said. In fact, Bowman spends her days with people she describes as "55 or better."
She started her bedside-nursing career at Longmont United Hospital. She first worked in ICU and then transferred to the Cardiovascular Rehab Unit. During that time, she discovered her passion for the elderly.
"We were truly oriented toward sick care," she said. "I felt we also needed a well-care model at our hospital. We needed to expand our way of thinking."
Bowman was asked to chair a task force on aging. The hospital was interested in retaining the senior market share.
A large HMO was moving into town, which was going to compete with the hospital’s Medicare dollars. As a nonprofit organization, Longmont United Hospital also wanted to send some profits back into the community to prove the hospital is community-driven.
Bowman’s goal was simpler. She wanted to find out what the elders in the community needed to get well and to stay well.
Her first order of business was to form a 12-member advisory board that she calls "The Wise Ones." To recruit members for this board, she asked local physicians if they could tell her the name of an elderly person who always left them knowing it was going to be a good day. In this manner, a very proactive group of movers and shakers was created.
"They were really committed to promoting the good health of our community," she said.
In 1991, they formed the Department of Senior Wellness, which Bowman managed. Seniors were encouraged to join the newly formed PrestigePLUS Club. For a small annual fee, people "55 or better" would receive a health assessment by a registered nurse, and attend monthly wellness activities and educational programs.
Screenings for skin and prostate cancers were offered, as well as clinics for special health issues. These provided finger sticks for blood sugar, oximetry and urinalysis. Clinics were held to check blood pressure, pulse, height and weight, and ear exams. Various hospital discounts were available.
Bowman soon found the seniors were tired of the old information which saturated elder health care.
"They wanted new strategies," she said. "They wanted us to swim a little farther upstream to provide preventative medicine."
They requested Tai Chi exercise, programs on humor and laughter, aromatherapy, herbal information, massage therapy, acupuncture and many other modalities of wellness, none of which were offered routinely at hospitals.
"There was a time if you brought this it up to a physician, it would bring more animosity than support," Bowman said.
In 1994, Bowman became manager of the Department of Complimentary Medicine. This department provided services to seniors and to patients in the hospital.
It now includes 16 massage therapists who provide massage to anyone from an infant of six weeks to the oldest patient at 102. All new mothers receive a massage at Longmont United Hospital. There are six acupuncturists, including Bowman.
There is a medical herbalist, a music therapist, an art therapist, an Alexander Technique practitioner and a Reiki practitioner.
"These people are non-physicians," said Bowman, "but all are RNs or nationally certified."
Bowman’s life has been greatly enriched by her experiences with people "55 or better," she said. The advisory board discovered that the American Society on Aging was looking for delegates to visit China.
They held a fund-raiser and sent Bowman on a 17-day, 4000-mile tour of China to learn about traditional health care for the aging. She said at the time, the president of the society was impressed by Longmont’s positive community reaction to learning alternative treatments.
Bowman took 1000 slides and gave more than 400 presentations on her trip. When asked what stood out about elder health there, she said, "I never saw canes or walkers."
She said she believes this is because most Chinese practice Tai Chi — a slow, intentional set of movements that stimulate the energy system of the body.
To meet the request for humor and laughter, Bowman started a clown college. There are 15 clowns in the troop.
They bring laughter to the hospital two days a week. In December 2000, Bowman brought Patch Adams, MD to Longmont United to encourage humor in healing.
Largely because of Bowman’s efforts, Longmont United Hospital was honored by "Modern Maturity" magazine as one of the top 15 "Hospitals with a Heart."
Also, the hospital has been honored by "Natural Health" magazine, which ranked it third in the United States in terms of innovative complementary and alternative medicine programs that caters to older adults.