Whenever Jose Centeno meets someone new, he’ll probably start talking to them about diabetes.
It sounds unusual until Centeno tells you that both of his parents had diabetes and that it’s a common condition in the Latino community. Centeno has met many people who are pre-diabetic or even diabetic and had no idea.
Centeno has a purpose for bringing up the personal topic: He can help you learn how to manage your diabetes. He’s a peer educator with NHRMC’s Diabetes Empowerment Education Program, or DEEP. Centeno, who also works in NHRMC’s Environmental Services, teaches multiple classes each week that give participants hands-on solutions to health issues related to diabetes they or their family members face.
When he meets people, he tries to “steer the conversation toward the class,” Centeno said. He does that because he watched his own parents struggle to fully understand how to manage their diabetes. They stayed away from sugary treats like cookies and candy, but they continued to eat pasta, white bread, and rice – the kinds of carbohydrates that can negatively affect a person’s blood sugar levels.
If his parents had taken his diabetes education class, they would have learned how to better manage their diets. Centeno uses an analogy he often mentions to his students to make his point:
“The more sugar you put in iced tea, the thicker it’s going to get. Your veins are the same way,” he said. “If it affects your blood, then it will affect every part of your body.”
Through the DEEP program, participants can take charge of their own health. Classes are open to anyone interested, and some are specifically targeted to groups like the Latino population, taught by someone like Centeno who understands their language and their backgrounds.
The DEEP program is part of NHRMC’s Diabetes Moonshot initiative involving various partners working to improve access to care, education and support for those with diabetes.
Diabetes educator Victoria Garner, RN, who introduced the program to NHRMC, sees the educational program as a way to shift patients’ perspective into preventive diabetes care, which is an important focus area of the Moonshot initiative. The goal of the program, she says, is “to take control of the disease and reduce the risk of complications.”
“Once patients come to us and they’ve had undiagnosed diabetes for years, they’re coming to us when they’re at their worst,” said Garner, who is the lead trainer for DEEP. “We needed to see them right at the beginning, before it got to this point.”
The program is free and available to anyone. You don’t have to have a referral from a doctor to enroll in the program. You don’t even have to have diabetes. Centeno points out that two of his students didn’t know they were diabetic/pre-diabetic until after they enrolled in the program.
Participants meet for an hour and a half once a week for six weeks, covering eight modules about healthy eating, exercise, and risk factors associated with the disease. It teaches participants who have diabetes (or who are at a high risk for getting it) how to manage their health, and it teaches people who don’t have diabetes how to help their loved ones who do.
“A lot of family members feel kind of helpless,” Garner said. “This class teaches them how to communicate to those that have diabetes in a supportive way, not a suppressive way.”
Garner herself 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 her grandmother themselves, but they weren’t sure how. Garner’s grandmother ended up dying after experiencing complications related to her diabetes and a stroke. That experience inspired Garner to become a diabetes educator.
Like Garner’s family, many Latino people don’t see a doctor when they’re sick because of a potential language barrier or other concerns, Centeno said. He teaches his DEEP classes in Spanish and English to combat that problem.
“This program allows them to take charge of their self-care,” Centeno said. “We put it in their hands.”
For more information, email Victoria Garner at Victoria.Garner@nhrmc.org.