March 2005

Mon River FLEET Improving Health of Local Communities

Diabetes Prevention, Education and Management Now Available
to Residents At No Charge

by John Fries

What often happens when several ships get together? They form a fleet, sail the ocean, and discover new worlds.

Here in Western Pennsylvania, thereÕs a new FLEET thatÕs moving forward very quickly. ItÕs not on the ocean, but, rather, in several communities along the Monongahela River. And the SHIPs in this case arenÕt large vessels, but State Health Improvement Plans from McKeesport, Duquesne, Braddock and Hazelwood, that banded together last year to provide Mon Valley residents with diabetes prevention, education and management.

The State Health Improvement Plans have been in place across the Commonwealth for the last several years, and are comprised of local leaders working in partnership with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Their mission is to address social, health, educational, spiritual, recreational, safety and security needs in their communities, with an emphasis on Healthy People 2010 goals.

Last year, the McKeesport, Duquesne, Braddock, and Hazelwood SHIPs decided to take things a few steps further when they realized the need to address the high incidence of diabetes within the African American population (three times that of Caucasians). Noticing that there was a lack of programs in place to address the issue, they formed the Mon Valley FLEET, which is dedicated to seeking innovative ways of spreading information and solutions in their communities. Several organizations participate in FLEET, including the McKeesport Hospital Foundation, UPMC McKeesport, UPMC Braddock, and Community College of Allegheny County.

Proof that strength exists in numbers is evident from the great progress thatÕs been made since the Mon Valley FLEET was formed. Diabetes workshops have been set up throughout the communities served by the FLEET, and new workshops are planned. In addition to diabetes, other important health issues are also being addressed, and more initiatives will soon be introduced.

Recently, a meeting of more than 20 FLEET participants was held at UPMC McKeesport at which progress and future plans were discussed. "ItÕs a true collaborative effort," says Michele Baich Matuch, executive director of the McKeesport Hospital Foundation.

Matuch, together with the Lions in Districts 14-B and 14-E, was instrumental in the development, planning, and funding of the Lions Diabetes Center at UPMC McKeesport in 1992, and she continues to raise funds for those in need of medications. "We know we have the need," she adds. "In fact, one in four residents do not seek medical care because they cannot afford to pay for their tests and medications." She adds that future growth of the program is likely.

Ken Thompson, M.D., a psychiatrist and Mon Valley SHIP facilitator, agrees. "WeÕre in a position to do some very innovative work."

Workshops present education aimed at preventing diabetes, increasing early diagnosis of people with diabetes, and controlling the growth of diabetes by empowering at-risk people to change their behaviors. Each workshop begins with three one-hour sessions that provide an introduction to diabetes. There are one-hour workshops scheduled at six months and 12 months to ensure that projected behavioral and physiological changes are being met.

Participants are introduced to the food pyramid and receive information about lifestyle modification. Each creates a personalized lifestyle management plan, and all are urged to do such simple, but helpful, things as walking for health improvement. Maps are even provided.

The FLEETÕs goal is to provide workshops to 250 individuals over three years in the targeted areas. Although the focus is on African-Americans, anyone is welcome to participate.

"We know weÕre going to make a difference," says Dr. Gretchen Mullin of CCAC, whose facility hosted the first workshop. "WeÕre getting a diverse cross-section of participants Š black and white, young and old Š from such communities as McKeesport, Monongahela, West Mifflin, Duquesne, Clairton and Pittsburgh", she adds.

Lorie Rue, facilitator of the Duquesne Community SHIP, attended the workshop held in Duquesne. She says, "The educational program is great because participants learned information they didnÕt know, and they felt free about talking."

UPMC Braddock, according to Kim Fedor, is planning a series of workshops and notes that, this spring, the hospital will break ground on a new wellness center that the YMCA will manage.

As the initiative rolls out and workshops get underway, outcomes are being tracked, and attendees are being asked to complete pre- and post-workshop quizzes to ensure that the information is being retained. Thompson says that physicians in SHIP areas have a great opportunity to refer their patients to the diabetes workshops.

"The State Department of Health and communities can now be much more involved in prevention. WeÕre bringing together health and community resources for the benefit of the people who live in our area."

Physicians and other interested people are urged to call 412-833-3630 or visit http://www.monriverfleet.com for more information.

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Copyright © 2005 by John Fries, Pittsburgh, PA.
Please direct all correspondence to john@johnfries.com