On the first Tuesday of every month, a group of patients meets in a third-floor conference room. They all have one thing in common: a diabetes diagnosis.
Actually, they have a lot in common, including worry about possible complications from the disease, frustration over managing their blood sugar levels, and the need to develop good exercise and eating habits.
There are two kinds of diabetes: Type 1, or insulin-dependent diabetes, occurs when an individual no longer produces insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels and converts carbohydrates to energy. With Type 2 diabetes, individuals become resistant to the insulin they produce.
Left unchecked, this chronic illness can cause a range of complications including circulatory problems, blindness, hypertension and kidney failure. Managing the disease can seem relentless, requiring daily attention to diet, exercise and medications.
Now, through Lowell Community Health Center’s innovative Diabetes Group Visit program, health center patients with diabetes don’t have to go it alone.
“It can be lonely dealing with a chronic illness like diabetes,” said Migdalia Fontanez, the Community Health Center’s Medical Assistant who oversees enrollment, working with Stephanie Mourtzinos, RN, to run the monthly meetings. “So much of the meeting is peer-to-peer support. People leave feeling hopeful, instead of frustrated.”
Almost 12.6% of all Lowell Community Health Center patients have diabetes (2015), and, among adults ages 18 to 75, that number climbs to 12.3%. The majority have Type 2 diabetes.
Led by an experienced team of doctors, nurses, diabetes educators, a dietitian and other clinicians, the monthly meetings cover a range of issues, including how diabetes affects the body, how to communicate with your doctor, managing symptoms, controlling blood sugar levels, eating well, using relaxation techniques including meditation and gentle exercise, and understanding the medications used to treat diabetes.
Hemoglobin A1C levels, which measure average blood sugar levels, are checked every three months, or more often if necessary. Although the meetings are offered in English, Fontanez, a certified medical interpreter, is available to assist Spanish-speaking patients.
Diabetes Group Visits are available to all Health Center patients diagnosed with diabetes or insulin resistance. The group meets from 9:00 to 11:00am on the first Tuesday of every month. For information, contact Migdalia Fontanez, 978-322-8869.