Until recently, Edith Higgins let her diabetes get the better of her. She was not taking her medication consistently. She made a habit of eating chocolate cake and other foods that diabetes patients are encouraged to avoid. The mismanaged disease left her tired all the time, and it exacerbated her other conditions. At one point, what should have been a one-day hospital visit became five days because of diabetes-related complications.
She knew this was not a healthy pattern, but had trouble staying on track. “I didn’t have a good quality of life because I was so exhausted,” she said. “But the thing with any chronic illness is that you get tired of trying.”
That’s why she and her mother, Ms. Lula Barnes, both sought out Community of Hope’s new Diabetes Group Visit program, a twelve-week course designed to encourage healthy habits for diabetic patients. In this program, offered at our Marie Reed and Family Health and Birth Center locations, staff lead classes on healthy cooking, exercise and medication management. At each session, participants set short-term health goals, and then report on their progress at the next meeting. Each patient has one-on-one time with their doctor, and the group always provides an opportunity to share struggles, ask questions and encourage each other.
Programs like this are part of our strategy to improve patients’ health outcomes. In 2013, 82% of our diabetic patients were in control of their blood sugar level testing. Compare that to Washington, DC's 2013 average of 63%, and it is clear that our approach is working.
Dr. Aaron Gerstenmaier, Medical Director at Marie Reed, says that relationships are at the heart of these healthy outcomes. "The group encourages questions and conversation in a comfortable learning environment. Patients gain knowledge and confidence through their shared experience.”
For Ms. Higgins and her mother, that supportive community is what kept them coming back. “I looked forward to coming to group,” Ms. Higgins said. “I couldn’t wait to see how everyone was doing.”
“We inspired each other,” Ms. Barnes added. “We’d say to each other, ‘Oh, you can do it.’”
Positive reinforcement is exactly what both women needed to recommit to their health. “It keeps you accountable,” said Ms. Higgins. Now when she opens the refrigerator and looks at the chocolate cake, she stops herself and says, “You know what they’d say at Group.”
Most importantly, Ms. Higgins now feels inspired to work harder on her health – for the sake of her family. She said, “I’m raising a 3 year-old. If I don’t do it for myself, I have to do it for her.”
She is encouraging her daughter to play outside and drink less soda and fast food. She is trying to be a healthy role model. “Kids learn by example,” she said. “If they see me sitting with a Mounds bar in one hand and a Pepsi in the other, they’ll think that’s how they’re supposed to eat. Whereas if they see me taking a walk, that’s what they’ll do. I want her to pick up a healthy example from me.”
Making healthy lifestyle changes can be a challenge for anyone, especially for our patients who face economic hardship, stressful life circumstances or physical disability. As Ms. Barnes puts it, “Some things you have to force yourself to do, if you really want to be a conqueror of this disease.” We are proud to support patients like Ms. Higgins and Ms. Barnes as they work hard to improve their health and meet their goals.