Columbia-based Nava taking holistic approach to health

The Nava Health and Vitality Center has just opened in Columbia, and aims to help people get the most out of their bodies. (Luke Lavoie & Jon Sham/Howard County Times video)

When Ellicott City resident Bernie Dancel's wife, Connie, became ill a few years ago, the couple did what most people would do: go to the doctor.

That initial doctor's visit led to another visit with a different doctor, which led to another, and another, until Connie Dancel was seeing upward of nine to 10 specialists at one time. Unfortunately, this approach wasn't working.


"After a year or so of doing this, my wife was getting sicker by the day. It wasn't helping," Bernie Dancel said.

It wasn't until Connie Dancel started seeing Dr. Sangeeta Pati, a holistic, integrative doctor in Orlando, Fla., that things started to turn around.


"She was the first person to take all my wife's information and say 'This is all related, I know exactly what you have, and I'm going to make you better,' " he said. "This was music to our ears [because] the doctors are telling us her organs are failing, and it doesn't look good."

Connie's condition began to improve, he said, and is still improving today. The results inspired Dancel, who is the chairman and CEO of the Columbia-based Ascend One Corporation – a national debt management company – to start a health and wellness business employing the principles that helped his wife.

The business, a subsidiary of Ascend One, is called Nava Health and Vitality Center. The first location opened in Columbia on McGaw Road last February; a second opened in Chevy Chase Aug. 1, and two more are planned for Rockville and Washington later this year.

Nava is a one-stop shop that aims to compliment traditional medicine by using a more complete, integrative and holistic approach to common ailments.

"What we've put together here is an integrative medical center, and the concept is to be able to look at the whole person and do as much as we can to get them back to health," said Dr. Doug Lord, Nava's medical director. "The thing that is most important of all this is we have everything under one roof."

The difference with Nava is in the approach, according to Nava's leaders.

Nava uses a more rigorous and broad health evaluation system, which includes a blood test twice as in-depth as a traditional doctor's and a 100-question survey , Lord said.

Nava takes the results and punches them into a special algorithm that produces a custom vitality plan, which Nava's leaders say makes it easier to diagnose the root causes of issues.

"If someone comes in with insomnia, it's not: 'Let's prescribe them a sleeping pill.' It's 'What's the root cause for that?' " said Mark Westerman, chief marketing officer.

Nava, which employs two medical doctors, a nutritionist, an acupuncturist, a chiropractor and a massage therapist, also takes a more holistic and collaborative look at issues than traditional doctors do, Lord said.

"When you come here, we all work together as a team," Lord said.

That team also includes the subject, which Westerman refers to as clients, not patients.


"It's really about a partnership and relationship, not a doctor-patient relationship," Westerman said.

Lord added: "We educate them and provide them with options, and they can do as much or as little as they want as fast or as slow as they want."

Following the in-depth consultation, Lord, the practitioners and the clients develop what Lord calls a "road map" to wellness. That road map includes a specialized kit of nutraceuticals and supplements provided by Nava, which Lord said are better quality than what you'll find in retail stores.

Nava sells memberships for $79 a month, another unique feature, which includes discounted prices for the nutraceuticals and services such as massage, acupuncture and chiropractic.

In addition to its different approach, Nava aims to invoke a contrasting feel to a doctor's office.

"It's a bit like spa meets doctor's office," Westerman said. "The environment, look and feel adds to the experience."

Nava doesn't handle insurance claims and doesn't have partnerships with pharmaceutical companies, unlike traditional medical practices. Clients can file claims with their medical insurance companies on their own for any reimbursements.

Westerman said 20 percent of Nava's clients come to the center because they are experiencing an acute issue, while the remaining 80 percent are people who are looking to maintain their health as they age.

The three most common issues among clients are weight management; the effects of aging, which is related to hormonal imbalance; and chronic pain.

As Nava approaches its first anniversary next month, it would appear that the concept is working, as evidenced by Dancel's expansion plans. In addition to the two new facilities slated to open in 2015, Dancel expects to expand the business in Maryland and eventually in Southern Florida

Dancel said Columbia was a natural fit for the first location because of the high-income and health-conscious demographic, and its proximity to Ascend One, the parent company.

"The demographic in Columbia is great for this," he said. "We [also] chose Howard County because it is close to us and we know the market really well, and we knew it would be a successful location."

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