A week after retiring from a Las Cruces hospital 20 years ago, June Donohue picked up an unexpected phone call. It was the hospital’s certified diabetes educator asking if she’d be interested in joining Southern New Mexico Diabetes Outreach (SNMDO), a new nonprofit dedicated to preventing and managing diabetes.
That phone call came not long after her daughter’s mother-in-law passed away from diabetes. The loss gave Donohue new perspective. “I thought, man, this is my chance,” says Donohue, now SNMDO’s executive director. “I wanted to make a difference.”
SNMDO travels to schools, churches, businesses, health fairs and other areas to provide preventive and diagnostic diabetes screening services and education to vulnerable populations. Since 2011, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico’s (BCBSNM) Care Van® program has provided SNMDO access to its two Care Vans to use as a mobile exam room and teach New Mexicans about diabetes care.
In 2021, the program worked with organizations such as SNMDO to administer nearly 1,400 health screenings and more than 1,100 vaccinations.
This year, the program will include a new, upgraded Care Van with enhanced internet capabilities for conducting telehealth visits in remote regions and a wheelchair lift that will help SNMDO screen people with disabilities.
The vans are particularly important during the summer when temperatures can reach triple digits. The vehicle’s air conditioning keeps blood glucose, A1C and cholesterol meters cool to ensure they work properly.
“In the past, our partners would have to come out of the van and provide the screenings, “says Amy Fisher, community relations manager who helps oversee the Care Van program, “but having the wheelchair ramp will now open up new opportunities to help many others.”
The Care Vans play a vital role in reaching the underserved in a state where diabetes diagnoses already are higher than the national rate and expected to rise, says Selena Gomez, SNMDO’s screening and media director.
In 2020, 12.4% of adults in New Mexico were diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 18% of those cases among those with the lowest incomes. The pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, says Gomez, whose father struggles with the condition.
After a blue Care Van pulls into a community, curious crowds tend to gather as people watch screening preparations unfold, Gomez says.
“The van brings a professional, mobile clinic atmosphere that makes people feel comfortable.,” she says. “We let them know that we're offering these tests for free, and people more often accept our services.”
Helping underserved communities prevent and manage diabetes is what first attracted Gomez and Donohue to SNMDO. Partnering with the Care Van program has helped the organization realize those goals.
“It’s wonderful to see people’s enthusiasm and how hard they’re working to improve their health,” Donohue says.
One southern New Mexico man particularly stands out in her memory. During a Care Van screening event, a nurse found his blood sugar level to be dangerously high and warned he needed to embrace healthier habits. Months later he suffered a stroke, Donohue says. Several years passed before she saw him again at a recent Care Van event.
“He and his wife thanked me and the organization for helping and said the care they received really did save his life,” she says. “It was amazing.”