These days, Judy Kell — HUB manager of Pathways to Better Health through the Health Project — is happy to be celebrating small wins when it comes to controlling her risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
“For me, a small win was that for the first time in all the years I’ve given out Halloween candy, I didn’t eat one piece.”
Like so many people in Muskegon, Kell is among the 39 percent of adults who are at risk for diabetes — an extremely high number. In fact, on average, nine out of 10 people who are at risk for diabetes are completely unaware of their risk.
Kell attends a diabetes prevention program designed to help patients stay healthy and avoid complicating their relationship with the health care system. Success is also what keeps her coming back each week. “I’ve lost more weight through this program than I have through other popular programs.”
Community Outreach through Funding and Partnerships
The 25-session diabetes prevention program Kell attends is made possible by a three-party agreement between Trinity Health, Mercy Health Muskegon through the Health Project, and the Muskegon YMCA.
“Ours is the only RHM to receive a grant from Trinity Health for this program that chose to partner with another local nonprofit provider organization — the Muskegon YMCA,” said Kell. It is the YMCA staff who deliver this life-altering program to people in Muskegon, Ionia and Barry counties.
Who Is Qualified?
“This program would not happen if not for physicians who make referrals to it,” said Melissa Wikman, executive director, Muskegon YMCA. More than 20 Mercy Health physicians have made referrals to the diabetes prevention program, now in its second year.
“Mercy Health Physician Partners are our ‘Rock Star Referrers,” said Kelli DeLong, a referral coordinator and trained lifestyle coach at Muskegon YMCA. “We take anyone who is qualified. You don’t have to live or work in Muskegon. You just need to have a BMI of 25 and take the risk assessment. This isn’t a program for people with diabetes, just for those at risk.”
Removing Potential Barriers
Once she receives a referral, DeLong contacts the patient and makes an assessment on the phone. “I ask questions about the patient’s willingness to change and make a commitment to this yearlong program. If transportation is an issue, I refer the person to the Pathways program that helps with transportation for qualified patients.”
Pathways to Better Health is also able to help qualified patients with chronic disease support, utilities and housing referrals.
The diabetes prevention program features include the following:
- Cost: None, thanks to the grant
- Transportation: Free through Pathways to Better Health for qualified participants
- Class Schedule & Locations: mornings, afternoons, evenings or Saturdays, in 10 convenient sites throughout the county
- Enrollment: Ongoing, with new classes starting every two weeks or so
- Class size: Limited to 15 people per group
“The Real Magic”
This isn’t a diet or exercise program. “We’re creating awareness,” said DeLong. “This is a lifestyle and behavior change program delivered over the course of a year. What we want is for our participants to make small changes while they are with us — ones they are happy to continue making after they complete the program.”
Kell was skeptical about attending hour-long group sessions. “I can honestly say that there is no embarrassment. At each class there is a painless, private weighing. I am not a group person, but this program is something I enjoy going to.”
That may be because the facilitator, a trained lifestyle coach, uses classroom-style discussion about healthy eating and being active to pinpoint any difficulties members are experiencing. If a problem is identified, the group comes up with solution, not the coach, who isn’t expected to have all of the answers.
The program’s requirements are simple:
- Weigh in during each session
- Log their food (fat and calories) and physical activities (30 minutes of movement/day) throughout the week and turn in the results at each session
Participants have found creative ways to “move” throughout the day. “For me, I track my steps each day, and I participate in Dr. VandenBosch’s exercise program in the Mercy Health Lifestyle Clinic,” said Kell. For other participants, “movement” might be taking several laps around Meijer before actually shopping or taking the stairs in a building several times a day.
Coaches admit that people are not used to tracking the food they eat. However, they say that writing it down and looking up the calories and fat content really make a difference.
Measures of Success
From March through November 20, 2018, Kell’s class members have lost 227 pounds. That’s important because losing just five to seven percent of one’s weight can reduce a patient’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes by roughly 58 percent. Maybe that’s why the retention rate in the program is a remarkable 82.2 percent.
“The differences in our group are amazing,” shared Kell. “People are happier, and we’re eating things we’ve never eaten before.” By the end of the program her goal is to “be off my hypertension medication and my statin.”
Perhaps Wikman sums it up best: “I believe the power of this program is due to our outstanding facilitators, the reliance on the groups to solve problems, and because we spend 25 hours with these patients. During the course of a year, our participants make significant changes in increments, which is the way they got into their unhealthy habits in the first place.”
One truth is crystal clear to the participants in this program: It’s one thing to be at risk for diabetes, but once a patient becomes diabetic, that person’s relationship with the health care system changes overnight.
That’s a “relationship” they all want to avoid!
To learn more about this diabetes prevention program and all programs offered throughout West Michigan — for prevention and for patients with diabetes — click here.