Hurdles to diabetes treatment and management can be tough to overcome for people in Southern New Mexico.
Almost every county along the state’s southern border has a shortage of health care providers — along with some of New Mexico’s highest diabetes rates. However, many people living in some of the state’s most disadvantaged and remote areas struggle to manage their diabetes. They don’t have means to travel for treatment.
With support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, Southern New Mexico Diabetes Outreach, a nonprofit offering diabetes prevention and management education, tries to fill in care gaps throughout the area. The organization primarily provides health and wellness screenings, support groups for Type 1 and Type 2 patients and diabetes education classes for those newly diagnosed or struggling with management and nutrition.
SNMDO receives patient referrals from many health clinics and travels throughout the state’s vast frontier and rural areas to offer help, motivation and limited diabetes supplies. It serves about 10,000 people annually.
“We see people in various states of health,” says SNMDO Executive Director Selena Gomez. “We do see a lot of diabetes burnout. They give up and go days or weeks without medication and end up in the hospital. People get very depressed, especially children who are newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”
SNMDO is among several BCBSNM Blue Impact grant recipients statewide that address community focus areas, including the need to increase physical and mental health access and close care gaps. BCBSNM’s Care Van® program also has provided two vehicles for SNMDO to use as mobile exam rooms and teach diabetes care management.
“What SNMDO and similar organizations do is meet people out in the community where they provide no-cost diabetic screenings,” says Amy Fisher, BCBSNM’s community relations manager.
Statewide, an estimated 12% of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 18% of those cases among those with the lowest incomes.
BCBSNM tries to reach out and engage members diagnosed with diabetes and offers to connect with care managers, who can help them find doctors, diabetes education and community resources to better control their conditions.
“If we find that there’s a population of folks that aren’t having their diabetes managed, we will reach out to their clinicians and to those members and remind them of the importance of these services,” says BCBSNM Dr. Latha Raja Shankar, BCBSNM chief medical officer. “They might just need some reminders.”
Filling an information gap
SNMDO goes to places such as schools, churches, businesses and health fairs to offer preventive and diagnostic diabetes screenings and education for patients, their families and communities.
“It can be a burden to many people to get diagnosed and not receive any education,” says Gomez, whose father is losing his vision because of diabetes. “There’s a gap of education out there.”
For example, she says, she sometimes meets people who inadvertently make themselves ill by following unproven dietary advice to manage their conditions. Other patients need help learning about the basic food groups, portion control and making lifestyle changes to keep diabetes controlled.
“Every week, I feel like I’m helping people,” Gomez says, especially children and their families. “We want them to know they are not alone.”