By Karen Gorby
President/CNO, Angel Medical Center
November is a time of thanksgiving, and I am grateful that our community continues to entrust its care to us. This month is also American Diabetes Month. As you may know, our region is part of the “Diabetes Belt,” a description for the area of the country where a significantly higher percentage of people live with diabetes. In just Macon County alone, 11.7 percent of our community has diabetes; that’s nearly 25% greater than the national average of 9.4 percent. Even more worrisome is that we’re seeing younger people – and occasionally even children – receive a Type II diabetes diagnosis, almost always related to excess weight.
According to the Diabetes North Carolina website, about 1 in every 10 North Carolinians have been diagnosed with diabetes, and equally concerning – 1 in 3 likely have prediabetes. Prediabetes is when a person has abnormally high blood glucose levels, but not quite high enough – yet – to receive a formal diabetes diagnosis.
The American Diabetes Association lists Type 2 diabetes as the most common form of the disease, and it is defined simply as the body being unable to use insulin correctly. Unchecked, high glucose levels cause a host of serious health problems, including vision loss, heart disease, high blood pressure and peripheral neuropathy. The good news about Type 2 though is that it’s also the most preventable type of diabetes.
Healthy lifestyle practices that result in weight loss can be very effective at controlling both conditions. Blood glucose levels are one of the all-important issues we talk about when we advise patients to “know their numbers.” The most important ones to know are your blood glucose level, blood pressure and cholesterol.
Kim Watkins, RN, CDE, is AMC’s Diabetes Educator. She works every day to help patients who have been referred to our Diabetes Education Program by their physicians learn about how best to manage and even eliminate their condition. She shares that the key to working effectively with patients is not to judge them, but rather to meet them where they are. “Developing healthy habits that last will only work if you take your patient’s unique life experiences into account and move them toward an ‘a-ha-moment.’ If they’ve been sedentary for a long time, for example, it’s more successful to discuss a realistic, gradual exercise plan, where they work toward a customized goal, than it is to say ‘you’ve got to start now with the recommended weekly exercise frequency of thirty minutes, five days a week.’ The same goes for making healthier food choices.”
Among many other services, AMC offers a comprehensive two-day diabetes education class to patients that is certified by the American Diabetes Association. There, patients with diabetes learn about how powerfully effective medication management, sound meal planning and regular exercise can benefit their health. Watkins adds that the hospital hosts diabetes support group meetings once a month, at no charge for attendees. “We also offer special, diabetes-focused events throughout the year,” adds Watkins. “Twice yearly – in fall and spring – we even offer drive-through blood sugar checks, where community members don’t even have to get out of their cars to be tested! If a person has elevated blood glucose levels, they are advised to contact their physician.” This is especially important, as she cites a sobering and dangerous statistic: currently there are 30 million people with diabetes in the US, but only 23 million have been diagnosed. “The symptoms of diabetes can be subtle, and that’s why an alarming 7 million people are tragically unaware that they’re affected by diabetes,” she explains.
Patient partners like Kim Watkins provide essential help to community members as they manage their health. Armed with knowledge and investment in themselves, it is within our patients’ power to not only improve their health, but reclaim some of the joy of living that a diabetes diagnosis may have diminished.
Karen S. Gorby, RN, MSN, MBA, CENP, FACHE, is the President/Chief Nursing Officer of Angel Medical Center. Gorby is a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). For nearly three decades, she has served hospitals and health systems in Ohio before assuming her role at Angel Medical Center. Gorby received her MSN from Saint Joseph’s College in Standish, Maine, and her MBA from Wright State University in Fairborn, Ohio.