Grant Partner InFocus: CommUnity Care Austin

A life-changing conversation shows the powerful potential of CommUnity Care's diabetes prevention program for low-income families in East Austin.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 2.02.41 PM.png

As Josie sat in her East Austin home, she didn’t know what to think. The 42-year-old mom had just been diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Josie knew she was overweight and wasn’t feeling well, but she was a little confused at what the new diagnosis really meant for her.

Then she got the call.

“It was like an Angel sent from heaven,” Josie said. “I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was they said I was pre-diabetic. I needed help.”

On the other end of the line was a recruiter for a new pilot program at CommUnity Care Health Center in East Austin. It’s a one-year diabetes prevention program designed to work with Josie and 5,000 other pre-diabetic patients from low-income, vulnerable populations who are served in CommUnity Care’s 25 health centers. The goal is to discover the best interventions to prevent the onset of type-2 diabetes for this specific group of low-income, at-risk patients.

The program includes group classes focused on making better food choices, how to cook healthier meals and the importance of exercise. It’s the kind of intervention that’s the standard of care for wealthier patients, but not for all groups.

“There’s not a lot of data about what works on low-income groups,” said Kristin Brookshire, clinical nutrition manager at CommUnity Care. “We’re looking to develop a program that works for a population that doesn’t usually have the resources to get help.”

Patients set realistic goals on weight loss, exercise and better meal choices – all under a tight budget. These goals become the beginning steps to maintaining a much healthier lifestyle.

“This is a group that needed to learn skills to make those important lifestyle changes,” Brookshire said. “We have to make it real for them and make it something that they can do on their own.”

Josie’s road to better health started slow. She admits she didn’t want to go to the program’s first class, but she went. And soon the quiet mom started making big changes.

She showed up session after session and became more involved in the group’s discussion. After just 12 classes, Josie met her initial weight loss goal, her blood sugar levels decreased, and her lab results improved.

“She told us her family says she’s in a much better mood and much happier,” said Brookshire.

Josie now regularly goes to the gym and takes her teenage son with her. Because of the program, Josie’s husband has also started to eat better and feel healthier.

EHF supports programs like this because it focuses on prevention. The project can play a key role in keeping Josie and thousands of other low-income adults from becoming diabetic.

“We believe it’s an important example of a project working upstream by tackling health problems outside of an exam room,” said Elena Marks, EHF’s president and CEO. “It shows how a health clinic is working to improve community health by providing more than just medical care.”

EHF’s grant of $145,086 not only provides funding for the pilot program, it supports CommUnity’s Care’s effort to share the information and lessons learned with other federally-qualified health centers in Texas and across the country. The hope is that other programs and projects will be able to implement successful interventions that are often unavailable to low-income populations.

Josie has already started sharing what she’s learned. She’s telling friends and helping new patients who join the classes. She explains how she turned a confusing diagnosis into an opportunity to learn life-changing lessons. And it all started with a single phone call offering hope.

“I want to do whatever I can to tell this story,” Josie said.