Whenever Jose Centeno meets someone, he’ll likely talk to them about diabetes.
It sounds strange until Centeno tells you that both of his parents had diabetes and that it is a common condition in the Latino community. Centeno has met many people who are pre-diabetic or even diabetic who had no idea.
Centeno has one purpose of bringing the personal issue up: it can help you learn how to manage your diabetes. He is a peer educator in the NHRMC’s Diabetes Empowerment Education Program (DEEP). Centeno, who also works in the NHRMC’s environmental department, teaches several courses each week in which participants find practical solutions to diabetes-related health problems that they or their family members face.
When he meets people, he tries to “steer the conversation towards the class,” said Centeno. He does this because he watched his own parents strive to fully understand how to deal with diabetes. They stayed away from sugary treats like cookies and candy, but continued to eat pasta, white bread, and rice – the types of carbohydrates that can negatively affect a person’s blood sugar levels.
If his parents had attended his diabetes education class, they would have learned how to better manage their diet. Centeno uses an analogy that he often mentions to his students to clarify his point of view:
“The more sugar you add to iced tea, the thicker it will be. Your veins are the same, ”he said. “If it affects your blood, it affects every part of your body.”
The DEEP program allows participants to take their health into their own hands. Classes are open to anyone interested and some are specifically aimed at groups like the Latino population who are tutored by someone like Centeno who understands their language and background.
The DEEP program is part of the NHRMC’s Diabetes Moonshot Initiative, which involves a variety of partners working to improve access to care, education and support for diabetics.
Diabetes consultant Victoria Garner, RN, who introduced the NHRMC program, sees the educational program as an opportunity to shift patient perspective to preventive diabetes care, which is a key focus of the Moonshot initiative. The aim of the program is to “take control of the disease and reduce the risk of complications”.
“Once patients come to us and have undiagnosed diabetes for years, they come to us when they are at their worst,” said Garner, who is the lead trainer for DEEP. “We had to see them right at the beginning, before the time came.”
The program is free and available to everyone. You don’t need to have a referral from a doctor to sign up for the program. You don’t even have to have diabetes. Centeno notes that it was only after enrolling in the program that two of his students knew they were diabetic / pre-diabetic.
Participants meet for six weeks an hour and a half per week and cover eight modules on healthy eating, exercise, and risk factors associated with the disease. It teaches participants with diabetes (or at high risk of developing diabetes) how to manage their health, and it teaches people who do not have diabetes how to help their loved ones who do.
“A lot of family members feel kind of helpless,” said Garner. “In this class you will learn how to communicate in a supportive, non-oppressive way with diabetics.”
Garner himself was one of those helpless family members. Her grandmother, who came to the United States from South Korea in 1995, had diabetes. Garner’s grandmother didn’t speak English and her family didn’t have the money to afford adequate health care, she said. Garner, her mother, and her sister tried to take care of their grandmother on their own, but weren’t sure how. Garner’s grandmother died after suffering complications related to her diabetes and a stroke. This experience inspired Garner to become a diabetes advisor.
Like Garner’s family, many Latino people don’t see a doctor when they’re sick because of a possible language barrier or other concerns, Centeno said. He teaches his DEEP courses in Spanish and English to tackle this problem.
“This program enables them to take responsibility for their self-sufficiency,” said Centeno. “We put it in your hands.”
For more information, email Victoria Garner at Victoria.Garner@nhrmc.org.