Senior citizens at the Constance Baker Motley housing complex can now access free Type 2 Diabetes screenings, treatment and education due to a unique collaborative effort between the city government and private sector.
Last month, the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of New Haven and city municipal departments launched the 12-week Diabetes Education and Management program, with the help of a grant from the Philip Marett Trust Fund in conjunction with trustees from Bank of America, N.A.
Mayor Toni Harp and officials from a variety of New Haven private and public organizations announced the partnership at a Tuesday press conference hosted at Constance Baker Motley, a West Rock housing complex for the elderly, named after an African-American civil rights activist, lawyer, judge, state senator and Borough President of Manhattan.
“Just as they say a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, this partnership is strong because each of its components has gone out of its way to make it strong,” Harp said. “All of this is to combat the scourge of diabetes.”
Harp praised the “innovative, collaborative” partnership, which aims to reduce diabetes in at risk seniors, improve their Body Mass Index and blood pressure levels, and teach individuals with diabetes how to manage symptoms long-term.
Ultimately, the participants will be able to serve as “peer navigators” for fellow residents, teaching them proper nutrition and self care, said Martha Okafor, New Haven’s community services administrator.
The weekly program began with three introductory sessions open to all city residents. After performing diabetes screenings, subsequent sessions were tailored toward the needs of individuals who suffer from diabetes, on-site provider Natalie Lourenco said. Since then, this group has discussed topics such as neuropathy, kidney disease, the dangers of smoking, maintaining a healthy blood pressure and nutrition.
Several participants praised the program. Constance Baker Motley resident James Pittman, 68, said he looks forward to every Wednesday session and expressed his gratitude for being part of it. Pittman, who has Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, added that the educational component “gave [him] direction.”
City resident Marcus Thomas, 72, echoed Pittman and said that learning portion control allowed him to enjoy his favorite foods while improving his health.
“Because we’re elderly, we have to understand [the disease],” Pittman said. “We don’t want diabetes to be a source of discomfort. I feel good about myself, and I’m … pretty sure other organizations in time will step onboard because we so need it.”
The participants’ ages — all residents in the Constance Baker Motley house are at least 62 years of age — are significant.
Physician and Director of the New Haven Health Department Byron Kennedy noted that much of today’s information about diabetes is extrapolated from surveys of middle-aged adults. This program, he said, is valuable because it creates an opportunity to learn more about diabetes and senior citizens.
“Sponsoring this fund for this perfectly-timed program is excellent. I join you in celebration because help is on the way,” said Migdalia Castro, the director of the New Haven Department of Elderly Services, at the press conference.
According to Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center CEO Michael Taylor, the Diabetes Education and Management curriculum had been in development for over three years when Okafor approached him. Okafor began by reaching out to senior citizens in an attempt to understand the effects of and the struggles associated with living with diabetes.
“After listening to their stories, there was no doubt in my mind that we have to take action,” Okafor said. “We want to hear more of your stories. Many people do not understand what it means to live and suffer, thrive and overcome diabetes. Your stories will help all of us do better and do things differently.”
In addition to Harp, New Haven alders Brian Wingate of Beaver Hills and Delphine Clyburn of Newhallville spoke at the event.
Both shared the effects of diabetes on their personal lives. Clyburn recounted how she watched a family member undergo amputations due to complications arising from the disease, and Wingate described his own struggles with Type 2 Diabetes.
“Diabetes has such a long history of debilitating our community,” Wingate said. “But anyone can beat this disease.”
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2014, approximately 22 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes, and 50.5 percent of them are diagnosed at age 55 or older.