During a visit with her primary care doctor in early 2017, Judy Palmer learned she had some health concerns. Her cholesterol and blood pressure were high, she was overweight and a blood sugar measure called A1C indicated a condition called prediabetes.
Her physician, James Byrum, told her he typically would have considered a medication but Judy’s kidneys weren’t healthy enough to tolerate it, she said. Instead, he recommended Judy enroll in Mercy’s Diabetes Prevention Program, which helps adults who are at risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Dr. Byrum recommended the same program for Judy’s husband, Harry Palmer, and the two decided they would start the program together.
Fast forward nearly a year and Judy and Harry had normalized cholesterol and blood pressure, dropped weight, improved their A1C measures and learned strategies for continuing healthy habits for the rest of their lives.
“In that first class, they told us what to expect and that nothing magic is going to happen. It takes work,” Harry Palmer said.
The program requires a year-long commitment, with a class one night a week during the first 16 weeks.
“Every week, the lessons built on what we had learned the week before and as we learned more, we had a desire to do what we had learned about,” Judy Palmer said.
The program goal is for all participants to reduce their total body weight by 5-7 percent and increase weekly physical activity by 150 minutes per week during the first six months. Community Wellness Program Manager Ashton Caton is one of the lifestyle coaches who leads the weekly classes, which offer a combination of information and encouragement to help participants reach their goals. The curriculum is approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“This is a national program, originated by the CDC, for people before they are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes,” Caton said. “There’s an increased risk with certain blood measures, with certain body mass indexes and certain family history.”
Caton teaches participants about nutrition, reducing portion sizes and ways to work more activity into their daily routines, among other lessons.
“Making some simple lifestyle changes makes a big difference, and research has shown participants in the program can lower their risk by 58 percent and actually prevent the onset of diabetes,” she said.
Caton focuses on small, individualized changes that participants can easily maintain.
“What works for one participant may not work for another, so we give multiple tools in hopes that one or two work for each participant along their journey,” Caton said.
Dr. Lisa Low, medical director of community health for Mercy, said the health system is working to increase awareness of the program among both physicians and community members. The proven success of the program has made it a model for diabetes prevention nationally.
The small class sizes and dedicated lifestyle coach are keys to the program’s success, Dr. Low said.
“You really get to know the people in your class and travel along the journey with them. You have somebody who’s rooting for you and cheering for you along the way and who’s also holding you accountable,” she said.
The Palmers agreed.
“Not only did we learn from the class, we learned from each other, especially about our struggles,” Harry Palmer said.
Because it’s a year-long class, you face the ups and downs of trying to stick to a program together.
“Short term, you may not face all of the things that are discouraging. When it’s over 12 months, you’re going to hit a wall,” Judy Palmer said, noting Caton would help get her back on track.
The class, typically not covered by insurance, costs $36 per month. The Palmers said they’d pay it again in a heartbeat.
Being part of the program has changed road trips for the Palmers, who will celebrate their 45th anniversary in June. While traveling in their RV, they make sure to drink plenty of water and bring along fruits and vegetables to snack on, rather than hitting vending machines. Every few hours, they make a point to walk, even if it’s just around the parking lot where they’re stopped.
They finished the class in April but look forward to continuing the good habits they’ve developed.
Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2018, 2017 and 2016 by Watson Health, an IBM company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 800 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 44,000 co-workers and 2,100 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, supply chain organization, ROi, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients in more than 20 states coast to coast.