05/23/11 — Health Department sets its sights on diabetes rates

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Health Department sets its sights on diabetes rates

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 23, 2011 1:46 PM

Knowing that diabetes rates are higher among some minority populations, the Health Department has decided to take its message to the streets.

Janice Johnson began serving as coordinator of the Community Health Assessments Program (CHAPS) in March. The initiative had already proven effective in other counties, she said, prompting Health Director James Roosen to implement it as a pilot program.

Ms. Johnson, a retired educational counselor from Wayne Community College, was contracted to work with the Health Department for three months.

"We decided to train lay individuals in the areas of diabetes awareness, prevention and maintenance," she told the Board of Health Wednesday.

The first step would be to engage the public in the process. That could be done, Ms. Johnson said, through health education and outreach.

"The rate of diabetes among African Americans is almost twice that of other populations," she said. "That's why we chose that particular disease."

Since not everyone visits the Health Department or seeks treatment, it became a matter of reaching out to communities that are underserved.

"We decided to target public housing and senior communities," Ms. Johnson said. "There are actually 12 different housing developments that we targeted ... a total of 1,689 possible families that we could serve.

"If you multiply that on average of four, that's almost 7,000 individuals that we could touch through this program."

Armed with the goal of providing information about diabetes, both preventive and treatment, proved to be a challenge, she said.

"It was a daunting task," she said. "I'll bet I talked with more than 60 individuals, in order to get a pool of 20 applications. From those 20 applications, we got 10 solid people who agreed to go through the 22 hours of intensive training on diabetes awareness, prevention and monitoring."

The volunteers made a commitment to work in the various communities and share information on diabetes, as well as nutrition and exercise.

"We felt that using individuals that actually live in the housing developments would be a whole lot more effective than for us to go in because they already know their neighbors and friends," Ms. Johnson said. "By doing the training it would create an infrastructure so we could go in, (reducing) the gap between those people that have a need and those people with the expertise."

The ambassador concept has been used effectively in other counties and has the potential to be as successful in Wayne County, Ms. Johnson said.

So far, it's been a bevy of activity getting the program up and running, she added.

In addition to the educational component, the volunteers will implement activities, such as bike riding or walking, and introduce classes in nutrition and healthy cooking.

"It's all about making lifestyle choices," Ms. Johnson said. "It's not going to happen overnight because we didn't get here overnight.

"It's not going to cure all of the health issues but if we all do one little thing, you'll be surprised what a difference it will make in the long run."

"How about medical education?" board member Tommy Gibson asked. "Have you looked into that?"

The topic has been discussed, in terms of monitoring diabetes, Ms. Johnson replied.

Another component, she said, will be to invite representatives from WATCH and other health education agencies to participate in some of the education classes.

"We want to make sure that those areas that are underserved get the information," she said. "We're starting with public housing.

"It could expand to any population, any group, but right now we felt like public housing would be a really good place to start."

While Ms. Johnson's three-month contract has come to an end, she said she has been pleased with the response and the potential for the program to continue.

"We have 10 'racehorses' ready to go," she said of the ambassadors. "I'm hoping that we will be able to do another training because I think the work is very important. The goal is to have two individuals from each housing development."