If your name is Jill Miracle, would you try to work a miracle?
"Some of what we're going to talk about are dreams and some are facts," she said from her Rutherfordton office. "I'm a dreamer."
So what's a dream in the heart of this lady with the miraculous name?
"That everybody in Rutherford County would embrace that they can be healthier people, families, employees and not just grow old and die. That may be a harsh way to say it, but I think a lot of people don't realize how much healthier they could be through nutrition and physical activity," she said.
As executive director of the Community Health Council of Rutherford County (CHCRC), she helps cooperation among 30 local agencies in finding common ground especially around the issues of cancer services, response to the opioid crisis and other substance abuse issues, active living and healthy eating.
"Physical activity affects everything. We have to get those endorphins moving," she said, referring to those natural brain chemicals produced by exercise that make us feel better and increase our resistance to disease.
The health council has four main areas of concern and active work, but they relate to each other as an overall approach to a healthier county.
"I wish we could get back to growing our own food. We've got more land than anything,"
One of the four areas of work is healthy eating, which would certainly be impacted by growing our own food. A second area is physical activity; and anybody who has grown their own food knows that takes physical activity. A third area is responding to our current crisis of substance abuse. Experts in that field say walking, exercise, dance, swimming, you name it, physical activity is a great alternative to drug and alcohol abuse. The fourth area of work is cancer services; and even cancer recovery is improved by physical activity.
Imagine recovering from cancer working in the garden.
Last week's front page of Rutherford Weekly featured 98-year-old Gil Mays who said if you want to live to be 98, "Keep moving," another endorsement for physical activity.
The health council features standing committees who meet to plan work and activities around their areas of concern.
The standing committees break down walls among the various agencies involved, including law enforcement, recreation and traditional healthcare agencies.
"Everybody in the room is talking about the issues, not their particular agencies," she said gesturing with her hands and talking about a "holistic" approach to the problems.
The problems are big.
The county ranks in the bottom 25 percent of most health measures. Life expectancy here, for instance, is lower than in the rest of North Carolina and the nation as a whole. Life expectancy is a clear measure of health, but there are others like obesity, childhood diabetes, cancer rates, they go on and on. Rutherford County does not score well on any of them.
And then there is substance abuse.
Word on the street is that the opioid crisis is number one among drug problems locally. On the national level, 69,000 people died in 2017 of opioid overdoses. That's more that the U.S. combat deaths in Vietnam, and roughly mirrors the population of Rutherford County.
Miracle confirms that opioids are serious trouble here, but added, "Meth is still bad; and there is only way to deal with it. You just have to stop using it."
By contrast, there is a medication available now to offset the addictive powers of opioids and Blue Ridge Health has a program to address both the medical alternatives and the behavioral strategies necessary to work with the meds.
"Many people don't understand that the behavioral component in essential. The new program at Blue Ridge is a real asset for our county. They have had some success," she said.
Blue Ridge Health CEO Dr. Richard Hudspeth said of the new program, "One month after beginning to build our Medication Assisted Treatment program, we remain confident that communities struggling with the impact of opioid abuse will see improvement. The response from patients and community stakeholders alike has been positive since the announcement, and we're confident that these medications will make overcoming this dangerous addiction an attainable reality for our patients in Rutherford County."
What about the part doctors play in the opioid crisis?
"In the last four years, they have received extensive training to combat this problem and new systems are in place," she said. Doctors will have new tools to cross check prescriptions, some that even show data across state lines.
A community forum in October of 2017 resulted in monthly interagency meetings to address the opioid crisis. Among its recommendations is an effort by the United Way and the District Attorney's office to help former addicts get back into the job market and find housing.
Miracle is very positive and upbeat about what can be done to make that dream of hers come true. From promoting the county's farmers market to encouraging participation in the monthly Walk With The Docs at the Spindale House, she sees partnerships and cooperation that make for a better life here.
She had high praise for the leadership shown by the county commissioners who have volunteered to serve on the standing committees and help with the ongoing work. She is also grateful to all the agency reps who work with CHCRC to create that holistic approach to health in these parts.