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Center Expands Diabetes Care for Rural Georgians

December 13, 2013

More than 700,000 adults in Georgia live with diabetes – nearly 10 percent of the state’s population. And in rural areas of the state, diabetes is not only more common but there are far fewer resources to assist Georgians with better managing their condition daily.

Residents in Washington County living with diabetes faced the same challenges, at least until three months ago. But now Washington County residents and people in neighboring counties have access to some of the highest quality diabetes care and diabetes self-management education resources in the state, found in the small town of Tennille, Ga.

Located about halfway between Macon and Augusta, the Tennille Community Health Center is now one of only three in the state with both a nationally accredited diabetes self-management program and status as a federally qualified health center. That means that patients with any type of health insurance (or none at all) can receive routine medical care from their doctor and also learn skills to better manage their diabetes all in one medical home.

Crystal Owens, M.D., medical director of Community Health Care Systems, which operates the Tennille center, said with such a heavy burden of diabetes in the region, the center felt it was especially important to offer top-quality diabetes care.

“It’s important that we’re on the front lines of trying to help Georgians manage their disease by understanding what diabetes is all about,” Owens said. “It’s going to help improve their lives.”

The Tennille Community Health Center is a one-stop shop for diabetes care, education and services. When patients come to the center once a month, they spend a few minutes seeing a doctor, picking up their medications and getting routine health screenings to measure their blood glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol along with exams for their feet and eyes. The patients also attend classes that help them learn more about how to live healthy with diabetes, including tips on proper nutrition, appropriate exercise, taking medications as prescribed and smoking cessation.

Owens said offering so many resources in one place is important since many of the center’s clients have limited access to health care. 

“The patient is getting the full experience just from one doctor’s visit. It’s a really good way for us to utilize our resources,” she said.

Receiving timely and complete care is essential for helping people with diabetes stay ahead of their disease. Unmanaged diabetes places people at higher risk for developing complications of the eye, heart, kidney, feet, legs and kidneys. By helping patients understand how to take care of themselves, diabetes education aims to help people achieve optimal health status and better quality of life, as well as reduce their need for costly health care. Currently, diabetes costs Georgia about $5.1 billion annually, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

The Tennille Community Health Center’s diabetes self-management education program is accredited by the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE), which focuses on seven self-care behaviors: medication compliance, monitoring glucose (sugar) levels, problem solving, reducing risks for complications, health eating and being active as well as healthy coping with specific diabetes-related emotional and physical challenges. In Georgia, there are only about 20 organizations that have attained this nationally accreditation status. 

Owens said she hopes the diabetes self-management education program will expand to the Community Health Care Systems’ other eight health centers.

“Our patients are always excited to see their improvements,” she said. “The more people we can reach, the more we have a chance to change how diabetes impacts our part of the state.”

To learn about nationally recognized diabetes self-management education programs throughout the state, please visit the Diabetes Prevention and Control Program section of the DPH website.