Annia Reyes, Health Education Coordinator
Imagine you are an individual who lives without a car in an area with limited public transportation and work a minimum wage job that does not offer health insurance benefits. After 10 years of not going to see a doctor because it was not in the budget, you go to the doctor and get diagnosed as pre-diabetic. This means that you are on the path of becoming diabetic, if you do not change your habits to live a healthier lifestyle.
This brings up questions such as: how are you going to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables without a car? How are you going to pay for regular doctor visits to keep an eye on your health without health insurance? Working a minimum wage job will not provide enough money to keep your home and make healthy meals every night, especially without the knowledge of understanding how to give your body exactly what it needs. Where do you begin in managing your health?
Communities served by health centers are in areas where access to healthcare is limited. These communities suffer from a host of obstacles, known as health disparities, which impact individuals’ health and life in general. Healthcare disparities refer to differences in access to or availability of facilities and services.
Patient education is the process by which health professionals and others impart information to patients and their caregivers that will alter their health behaviors or improve their health status. At Cornerstone Family Healthcare, health educators host several programs that offer opportunities to teach patients with chronic diseases how to develop healthier daily routines and control their conditions. Some of the programs offered aside from one-on-one sessions include:
- Living Well with Diabetes
- Tobacco Cessation
- Healthy Heart
- Managing Your Health (Chronic Disease Self-Management)
- Free Farm Stand
- And more…
In health education programs, patients often walk in feeling overwhelmed with whatever is going on in their life and when they leave they feel empowered to conquer the obstacles they are facing.
There can be an overwhelming sense of defeat and a “why is this happening to me” attitude when a patient is first diagnosed with a chronic condition. As the participants talk to one another in the health education programs, they realize that there are many people who are going through the same thing and there are people out there who want to help; patients have constant support from providers, peers, and staff.
Mary Macdonald has been with Cornerstone for over 25 years participating in the Living Well with Diabetes and Managing Your Health education programs. “I don’t know what I would do without these classes,” said Macdonald. “They gave me the zest to fight my illness, taught me how to manage my health, and gave me an outlet to be around people going through the same thing.”
What many people do not understand is how they can benefit from participating in these programs. The information presented not only includes education about how to change your lifestyle habits, but it also includes an array of other benefits. It is not a room where people sit and get lectured on a regular basis because it is an interactive session. These programs include real people who share their difficulties in life, and in return they make relationships with one another, build trust, and find a place that is safe to open up about their feelings. At the programs, participants also receive free fruits and vegetables to take home.
Macdonald met her best friend in Cornerstone’s Living Well with Diabetes health education course. The two have built a special bond through spending time together in the 12-week course. They practice the recipes learned in class and find constant support in one another to get through their struggles.
Research shows that people are more likely to implement a change in their behavior if they talk about it in a group. Not only do the programs change behavior, but it also changes patients’ perspective about their situation. Often times, when many participants graduate from the program they are empowered to give back to their community by volunteering to help people who are in similar situations to theirs.
MacDonald is a regular volunteer at Cornerstone’s free farm stand held at the Newburgh Armory. Not only does she enjoy the vegetables she receives there, but she also enjoys seeing her friends from the programs and helping her community all at the same time.
Health educators begin to learn about the patients and begin to understand them and their needs a little bit better every time they see one another. Health educators are able to connect patients in their programs to other resources in the community, and services such as Care Coordination at Cornerstone Family Healthcare. Care Coordination is a free program that focuses on your specific needs as a patient and makes managing your health a lot easier. Care Coordination services help patients to overcome obstacles that contribute to health disparities, such as lack of housing, transportation or connection to childcare, which can get in the way of achieving good health. A few examples of services they provide include:
- Helping patients set and reach health goals
- Make and confirm doctor appointments
- Secure transportation to and from the appointment
- Monitor prescriptions
- Coordinate lab testing
- Linking patients to resources like housing, education, employment, and support groups
Partnering with Care Coordination and other area resources, Cornerstone’s Health Education Department assists patients on a much deeper level than education alone. One of the main goals of health education is to be a dynamic part of the integration of what it means to be healthy and to work with other departments to overcome the health disparities many people face in low socio-economic communities.
Macdonald came into class thinking that diabetes was a death sentence because of family history with the disease. “Cornerstone saved my life,” said Macdonald. “They really saved my life.”
Cornerstone Family Healthcare, Crystal Run Health Care, RECAP, and St. Luke’s Cornwall Hospital will be hosting a conference “Health Follows Wealth?” on April 7, 2017 to discuss the link between poverty and health outcomes. It is imperative to understand how one’s health is the nucleus that affects all other areas of life of a productive life. The goal of this discussion is to increase access to high-quality care, reduce barriers to receiving care, and ensure that all people are heard. For more information on the event please email email@example.com.