Newsroom | Community Health

Man pricks his finger to check his blood glucose level

Helping Communities Achieve Optimal Physical and Mental Health

Hurdles to diabetes treatment and management can be tough to overcome for people in Southern New Mexico.

Almost every county along the state’s southern border has a shortage of health care providers — along with some of New Mexico’s highest diabetes rates. However, many people living in some of the state’s most disadvantaged and remote areas struggle to manage their diabetes. They don’t have means to travel for treatment.

Southern New Mexico Diabetes Outreach, a nonprofit offering diabetes prevention and management education, tries to fill in care gaps throughout the area. 

“We see people in various states of health,” says SNMDO Executive Director Selena Gomez. “We do see a lot of diabetes burnout. They give up and go days or weeks without medication and end up in the hospital. People get very depressed, especially children who are newly diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.”

SNMDO is among dozens of community organizations HCSC is supporting through its 2023 major grant program in Illinois, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas. HCSC and its health plans are providing more than $9 million to organizations for work targeting social and economic factors that influence health and wellness.

“HCSC is committed to addressing the most pressing health care issues in our communities and to creating sustainable pathways to better health.”

— HCSC Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Monica Berner

One of the grant program’s strategic focus areas is helping close gaps in care for immunizations, diabetes care, cardiovascular care, behavioral health, early detection cancer screening, and maternal and infant health. 

Community organizations complement the work of HCSC’s doctors, nurses, social workers and other clinicians who collaborate with care providers to close care gaps. Additionally, the 29 vans in HCSC’s mobile health program held nearly 2,120 clinics, served more than 125,000 clients and provided almost 194,170 immunizations and other services throughout its five plan states.

The mobile health program partners with SNMDO to primarily provides health and wellness screenings, support groups for Type 1 and Type 2 patients and diabetes education classes for those newly diagnosed or struggling with management and nutrition.

The organization receives patient referrals from many health clinics and travels throughout the state’s vast frontier and rural areas to offer help, motivation and limited diabetes supplies. It serves about 10,000 people annually.

“HCSC is committed to addressing the most pressing health care issues in our communities and to creating sustainable pathways to better health,” says Dr. Monica Berner, HCSC’s chief clinical officer. "Our collaboration with SNMDO and other grant recipients helps to reduce the burden of multiple chronic illnesses, improve mental health and lower an individual’s overall health care costs, while increasing opportunities for people to improve their health and well-being.”

To help more mothers of young children and pregnant women going through addiction in Texas, Santa Maria Hostel in Houston is expanding its Caring for Two program to include services in the Austin area.

Santa Maria received a $600,000 grant from HCSC's expanded maternal and infant health initiative, in addition to a $25,000 grant from the Texas health plan's major grant program, to advance the effort. 

Caring for Two provides support, education and tools to improve infant-child development, as well as maternal physical and mental health outcomes, so mothers can better bond with and care for their children. Services include parenting education and coaching, behavioral health screenings, mental health counseling, peer support, health care coordination, transportation and housing assistance. 

“There are no services in Austin — in the Travis County area — for women who want to bring their children with them while they access substance use treatment disorder services,” says Nadine Scamp, Santa Maria’s CEO. “There are a number of people there who are struggling. They deserve that opportunity to meet their recovery needs.”

In Oklahoma, Health Alliance for the Uninsured is helping up to 25 free clinics implement and train staff to use an electronic medical record system for screening and monitoring patients with chronic diseases. The Oklahoma City nonprofit provides supplies, information and training to nearly 100 free and charitable clinics and coordinates diagnostic testing, specialty consultations and surgical care for Oklahomans who otherwise wouldn’t have access. 

Volunteers manage most of these clinics, which can’t afford new technology and often rely on paper medical records. As a result, the health conditions of uninsured patients aren’t documented in statewide health data reports used to identify service gaps and allocate funding and resources.

“Our population is underserved, and most have delayed their health care and aren’t managing their chronic conditions,” says Jeanean Yanish Jones, Health Alliance’s executive director. “Some clinics are open four or five days a week depending on providers’ time and availability and others are just trying to get through the day. Elevating the care that free clinics can provide is crucial.”

In Montana, psychotherapist Kee Dunning is traveling the state to try to save the lives of young people and reduce the state’s abysmal youth suicide rate. Since appearing with two of her clients in the 2022 Ken Burns documentary, “Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness,” Dunning has partnered with St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation, an HCSC major grant recipient, to show the film to audiences across Montana.

Dunning and her team are working to reduce youth mental illness stigma and have provided education and training to nearly 2,000 Montanans. The film highlights the U.S. youth mental health crisis by documenting the struggles of nearly two dozen young people ages 11 to 27 across the country.

She has met with parents, teachers, doctors and government employees — anyone in a position to positively affect a child’s well-being and help prevent someone from taking their life. “Establishing that relationship is the most important thing,” Dunning says. “Everyone shows up to do their best, and we all like to be seen and heard. Kids just need to know they have value.”

Last summer, HCSC welcomed residents to its Chicago community neighborhood centers to celebrate Men’s Health Month.

At events in Morgan Park, Pullman and South Lawndale, men were encouraged to take advantage of free colorectal cancer screening kits, as well as screenings for prostate cancer, glucose and cholesterol levels. The events also included talks about mental health, guided yoga and meditation sessions and fresh produce boxes.

"The most important thing about this event is for men to go out and get tested," says Lenell Eskridge, a Phi Beta Sigma fraternity member who volunteered at the Morgan Park event. "Arm yourself with information."

Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.