Since November is Diabetes Awareness Month, imagine you have been diagnosed with diabetes. But also imagine that you just lost your job and you don’t know how you will get your next meal. Having a chronic condition like diabetes can be stressful for anyone, but imagine what it would be like without health insurance or enough food in your fridge.
Oklahoma ranks 42nd out of 50 states for a high percentage of diabetes, affecting 13% of the adult population according to the most recent annual US Health Rankings report.
At Health Alliance for the Uninsured (HAU), we partner with free and charitable clinics across Oklahoma, helping them support our state’s most vulnerable residents. These clinics provide care for free, without any government support, relying solely on the support of charitable donations and volunteers.
Diabetes cannot be treated in isolation. Patients seen at our partner clinics often need non-medical support, such as healthy food, safe housing and transportation. These non-medical factors that occur outside of a clinical setting, known as the social determinants of health, shape 80% of a person’s health. Patients also need support for mental health issues like depression and anxiety, which can and do interfere with their other health treatments and overall well-being.
One patient, whom we will call “George,” provides a good example of the need for holistic care. Her diabetes had been well managed in the past, but saw her health steadily decline due to unexpected changes in her life. He had lost his job, which led to mental health issues. As a result, he struggled to make and keep regular appointments and manage his illness. He nearly lost his toes to nerve damage and poor circulation, common complications of diabetes.
The clinic serving George was able to provide him with mental health support that allowed him to get back on track with his diabetes care and overall well-being. George’s example is not an isolated incident. People with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to suffer from depression than people without diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And only 25-50% of people with diabetes who experience depression are diagnosed and treated.
Many of our partner clinics now screen patients with diabetes for depression and anxiety, as well as non-medical factors. With the help of a grant from the United Health Foundation (UHF), we were able to build on the historic programs of the Health Alliance for the Uninsured to provide medication assistance and specialty referral navigation services. . Our partner clinics now have access to important screening tools and behavioral health care and social services when screening identifies a need. For the alliance, partnerships are essential. The grant allowed us to expand our community of partners to include community agencies, academic institutions, and several mental health providers who offer services to uninsured patients. These relationships allow our partner clinics to better meet the holistic health needs of patients. The United Health Foundation shares our mission of improving community health and we are grateful for their support. In the future, we hope to offer this holistic care to all patients with chronic conditions. And that’s wise, knowing that physical health, behavioral health, and social service needs are inextricably linked.
Our work at Health Alliance for the Uninsured helps all of Oklahoma by not only improving the health of those who need help, but also reducing healthcare costs for everyone. We help people anticipate acute and damaging health events and keep people out of the emergency department when they would be healthier and better served with preventative care.
National Diabetes Awareness Month is an annual event held each November to raise awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of diabetes. It is also a good time to take stock of how we provide care, what is working and what is needed.
As we look to the future ― together with our partners and volunteers ― we are committed to providing more and better care to those who need it.
Jeanean Yanish Jones is the Executive Director of Health Alliance for the Uninsured. If you would like to know more about HAU, please contact: Jeanean.Yanish@hauonline.org
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