By Mark Wheeler
Researchers at UCLA will be introducing a new concept to the Santa Monica community this week: a neighborhood clinic designed to assist families in becoming — and staying — healthy.
The UCLA Family Commons, a new family wellness center at 1221 Second Street in Santa Monica, close to the Third Street Promenade, will celebrate its official opening on Thursday, Feb. 4, from 4 to 7 p.m. The pedestrian-friendly storefront location is the prototype for what organizers hope will be a number of such centers located in neighborhoods around the country.
This is not a typical “doctor’s office” but a neighborhood gathering place that will offer wellness classes for children and adults, family counseling, wellness check-ups and even an interactive art installation that reflects the changing moods of Santa Monica’s residents.
“The concept is that it will be a fun place to visit for parents and their kids, while serving as a reliable source for science-based information about health and wellness,” said Mary Jane Rotheram-Borus, Commons co-founder and a professor of psychiatry at UCLA.
“Prevention must play a huge role in health care reform,” added Commons co-founder Diane Flannery, who co-directs, with Rotheram-Borus, UCLA’s Center for Community Health. “And for good reason. More than 60 percent of illness and death are caused by four behaviors. Indeed, 70 percent of all strokes could be prevented if we made simple lifestyle adjustments — a little exercise, a slightly better diet, a little more sleep. Seventy percent.”
The Commons offers a new model of preventive health for children and families by establishing itself in the neighborhood and reaching out to families who might otherwise never seek traditional wellness counseling services or who might wait until they are in full crisis mode. The Commons provides coaching that will give parents and children the tools they need to resolve common challenges before they develop into serious problems, by changing behaviors in ways that have been proven by science to work.
“The basic idea of the Commons is a retail-based health ‘clinic’ that delivers health prevention to families in an easy way by bringing it to the community,” Rotheram-Borus said. “By translating scientific research from UCLA and other research scientists into engaging experiences, we will be connecting families with practical information, programs and products they can use to build healthier lives for themselves and their kids.”
Classes, for example, will be offered for children and adults in martial arts, yoga and mindful awareness, a form of meditation.
“Martial arts and yoga will enhance physical fitness, and with mindful awareness, these disciplines will build mental, emotional and social traits that contribute to lifelong well-being,” Rotheram-Borus said. “Research has shown these disciplines provide a wide range of benefits, including better focus and behavior in school, increased self-reliance and self-discipline, and a greater ability to manage stress and deal with frustration.”
One-to-one coaching will provide families with private, personalized time with a family coach, on their own schedule. Small group workshops and classes that provide tools to build a lasting capacity for health will also be offered. Topics will include everything from parenting — including how bringing home a new baby changes family dynamics and surviving the tough teen years — to promoting and teaching financial literacy and resolving conflicts.
“Beacon,” the interactive art installation in the Commons’ storefront window, reflects how people in Santa Monica feel, as residents anonymously share their moods through the Commons website or Facebook site. Its six lanterns glow with colors that change as people’s feelings change: orange and yellow when people are feeling good, purple to blue when they’re feeling bad, and green when moods are changing.
The Commons project came to life in 2007 when it was chosen as a winner in a global competition sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that was aimed at identifying ideas with the potential to empower consumers and transform how health care is delivered. The foundation then invited the UCLA Family Commons to apply for a grant from its Pioneer Portfolio, subsequently awarding $2 million in seed funding for the launch. If successful, the Commons’ organizers hope to open other neighborhood centers around the country.
“Today, traditional behavioral health services are out of reach for many families,” said Nancy Barrand, senior program officer at the Pioneer Portfolio. “By bringing services to retail sites in central community locations and tailoring them to specific family concerns, the Family Commons model can dramatically lower barriers like cost, convenience and public stigma. This simple idea caught our attention because we believe it could significantly transform the delivery of behavioral health care, allowing families to resolve common challenges before they develop into serious problems.”
The UCLA Family Commons is sponsored by the Global Center for Children and Families at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA. The Semel Institute is an interdisciplinary research and education institute devoted to the understanding of complex human behavior, including the genetic, biological, behavioral and sociocultural underpinnings of normal behavior, and the causes and consequences of neuropsychiatric disorders.