Be Well program helps underserved Lake County residents manage diabetes

Be Well-Lake County participant Bartolome Gomez Ramirez tends the program's community garden, which offers those with diabetes fresh produce to help manage their health. | Provided
Be Well-Lake County participant Bartolome Gomez Ramirez tends the program's community garden, which offers those with diabetes fresh produce to help manage their health. | Provided

A collaboration between the Lake County Health Department and the NorthShore University HealthSystem aims to change the way those with diabetes manage their health each day.

Through the Be Well-Lake County program, the two health agencies are providing underserved residents with a wide-array of treatment, support and educational services.

The overall diabetes management plan also includes psychosocial services, such as nutrition classes, in which patients learn what foods to eat and how to prepare proper meals. Gym memberships are awarded to those who complete the classes.

According to health officials, one particular risk for underserved residents with diabetes is food insecurity.

Dietician Elizabeth Hammortree said that for many of the patients she sees, healthy eating is not as simple as knowing what foods to buy. Instead, many of her patients are unable to afford the fresh fruits and vegetables that best manage the disease.

To address that problem, a community garden was created four years ago.

“Patients plant, water and weed the garden and then take the produce home,” Be Well-Lake County coordinator Christine Arnold said.

On “Dig Day” at the end of May, more than 150 families help plant fruits and vegetables in 120 earth boxes.

The watering and weeding required to maintain the garden has been assigned to 33 patients.

After the harvest, participants can bring home egg plant, cherry tomatoes, green beans, zucchini and a variety of peppers. Through nutritional counseling, the patients then learn recipes they can make with their produce.

According to the health department, 7.3 percent of adults in Lake County have diabetes and are at risk of related health complications that affect the eyes, kidneys and heart.

Arnold said most of the patients are adults with Type 2 diabetes. Since 2009, they have had access to medical care at the North Chicago Community Health Center on 14th Street.

Last year, the program extended its reach to the Belvidere Community Health Center in Waukegan. And as of April, more than 450 patients were enrolled in the program.

“To control and reduce the risk of complications we also manage what comes with having Type 2 diabetes,” Arnold said.

At the two locations, patients receive medicine and testing supplies, and participate in support groups. Arnold said frustration with the disease can often lead to depression.

Another component of the program is the medical treatment provided by specialists from NorthShore University HealthSystem, which makes available ophthalmologists, endocrinologists, cardiologists and nephrologists, Arnold said.

She stressed that it’s important for those with Type 2 diabetes to seek this specialized treatment because they are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or a heart attack.

And since some of the doctor’s visits take patients to locations as far south as Glenview, the program also provide patients with transportation.

“With the Be-Well program we’re able to treat our patients as a whole,” Hammortree said. “We equip them with what they need to manage their diabetes and stay healthy.”

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