Though it’s the primary focus of his practice, Dr. Roy M. Buchinsky understands that the idea of health and wellness isn’t always popular.
“Mark Twain once said the only way to keep your health is to eat what you don’t want, drink what you don’t like and do what you’d rather not,” said Buchinsky, director of wellness for University Hospitals. “We’re here to tell you, as part of our wellness initiative, that this is so far from the truth.”
Patient wellness has long been important to Buchinsky, a 46-year-old Solon resident who was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa, and attended medical school at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
In 1995, he completed his residency at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, where he said he was “trained to be a physician who focused on health and wellness.”
After spending two years on staff at Mt. Sinai, Buchinsky joined University Hospitals in 1997 – at about the time he also served two years as medical director at Montefiore in Beachwood.
At his University Hospitals practice, Buchinsky said he treated patients with chronic health conditions, which at times seemed like a never-ending struggle.
“It was like a doctor mopping up the floor with water, but the tap keeps running and the sink is still overflowing,” he said. “I started to ask, ‘How can I do a better job of addressing health and wellness on a more global scale?’”
Buchinsky saw an opportunity to do just that in 2010 as plans for the Ahuja Medical Center in Beachwood took shape.
“With the formation and rollout of Ahuja, and with the emphasis on prevention, I downsized my practice to take on the role of director of wellness at University Hospitals,” he said.
Ahuja then opened in March 2011, and the wellness program Buchinsky oversees kicked off that August, he said, adding that about one year into its existence, it’s gaining momentum and offering an ever-increasing number of health and wellness options to the community.
“We’re opening our doors,” Buchinsky said.
Visitors who walk through the doors of Ahuja Medical Center are welcomed into an active but tranquil lobby, where floor-to-ceiling windows fill the wide-open space with natural daylight.
Nearby is the cafeteria, designed to make it nearly impossible for visitors to make an unhealthy choice.
There are no fryers or sugar-added drinks, and a salad bar features vegetables provided by local vendors. Also available are items from Ahuja’s farmer’s market, including kale chips made by Lakewood-based Good ’n’ Raw.
The menu features items such as cranberry Dijon chicken, Israeli couscous, turkey burgers and cod sandwiches, and video boards list each menu item’s trans fat, saturated fat and calorie totals.
The cafeteria also offers “Meatless Mondays” to encourage a plant-based diet, and everything offered there is also made available to the patients staying at the hospital on the floors above.
Combined, the intention behind the cafeteria is to help people make dietary decisions with health and wellness in mind, Buchinsky said.
“We’re trying to take this model and roll it out to the entire system,” he said, noting that the cafeteria is open to the public and that many people from nearby offices stop by for lunch.
Outside the cafeteria is a patio on which visitors can enjoy their meal or simply relax. There are also two ponds – one with a fountain – and a walking trail encircling the property allows people to do light exercise, which is important to wellness.
Plans for the eastern portion of the Ahuja campus include adding healing gardens as well as a natural barrier that will shield those trying to relax from the humming traffic of Interstate 271, Buchinsky said.
One of the increasingly popular wellness program offerings is its executive health program, said Buchinsky, explaining that it’s available at Ahuja as well as at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. Patients in the program come in for a half-day appointment in which a thorough personalized examination is conducted.
“It’s a program geared toward prevention, early detection and the reversal of disease,” Buchinsky said. “We do that by doing a complete history, a comprehensive physical examination and all the ancillary tests, including labs and additional beneficial tests that aren’t necessarily covered by a traditional physical exam.”
The latter includes cardiovascular tests, he said, adding that aerobic capacity, flexibility, resistance and strength are also examined.
Nutrition plans are also constructed, most of which focus on regulating portion sizes and eliminating what Buchinsky called the “evil five” foods: trans fats, sugars, saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and high-fructose corn syrup.
Executive health patients are followed up at one-, three- and six-month intervals to make sure their health and nutrition plans are being implemented, and sub-specialists are available if additional care is required.
“We want to promote not just detection but also continuation of care,” Buchinsky said. “(The Executive Health Program) has so far been well-received. The comments that we’ve got have been that the staff is very professional, there’s rapid turnaround from one station to another, and that it’s been most beneficial in people not realizing what they’re eating might not be correct.”
Another unique offering of the wellness program, Buchinsky said, is the Connor Integrative Medicine Network.
“Wellness is the integration of mind, body and spirit,” he said. “What we’re trying to focus on here at Ahuja is how to get these different systems working together. It’s not just the absence of disease. Just because you’re not sick doesn’t mean you’re well.”
Services offered through the integrative medicine program include acupuncture, massage, meditation, reflexology, Reiki, tai chi and yoga.
Another facet is music therapy, which can help sick or depressed patients – as well as family members overwhelmed with stress – cope with their situation, said Jaclyn Palmer, the program’s board-certified music therapist.
“We’re making sure their emotional needs are taken care of,” she said. “We feel it also helps the healing process.”
Buchinsky said that research conducted by Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute in California, has shown that meditating for 15 minutes twice a day to reduce stress – along with moderate exercise and eating a mainly plant-based diet – lends support to the integrative medicine program’s efforts.
“In this era we’re living in of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based science, this is a really big validation of what we’re doing,” Buchinsky said.
In addition to the health care dollars overall wellness can save patients in the long run, Buchinsky said people should understand that it also has immaterial – though substantial – benefits.
“A life full of health and wellness may add years to your life, but it will definitely add life to your years,” he said. “Lead a balanced life full of good, nutritious food, small amounts of regular exercise, lots of laughter, and don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Buchinsky said patients often tell him they feel as though they’re predisposed to certain conditions, like diabetes, due to hereditary factors. While that may put someone more at risk, he stressed that patients can also exercise control over the matter.
“As we get older, more and more of how we live is going to be influenced by lifestyle choices we make and don’t make,” he said. “Good choices can turn on genes that promote wellness. Likewise, unhealthy choices can lead to the opposite effect and result in inflammation and chronic health conditions.”
As Rosh Hashanah approaches, now is as good a time as any for members of the Jewish community to take stock of the importance one puts on his or her health, said Buchinsky, who along with his wife and three children, is a member of both The Park Synagogue and Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.
“As we take time for personal reflection, remembrance and repentance, I encourage us to re-evaluate the way that we prioritize our wellness, and to remember that a healthy body is a healthy mind,” he said. “During the Days of Awe, it would be awesome to make our own wellness one of the highest priorities for the Jewish Year 5773 and become committed to the mitzvah of following a healthier lifestyle – both individually as well as within the community.”