Improving the Lives of the Most Vulnerable People with Diabetes


Diabetes is the great DIY disease. More than most other chronic conditions, people with diabetes spend a lot of time testing, adjusting, and counting medications, exercise, and food—actively acting as their own caregiver on a daily, ongoing basis. Empowering newly diagnosed and those struggling to manage diabetes how to do this well is where the BD Helping Build Healthy Communities program comes in.

“There’s not one thing that’s going to be a magic bullet when it comes to improving the care of diabetes,” says Ingrid Andersson, Director of Nursing at Mary’s Center, a community health center in Washington DC, which received a grant for a program delivering direct care to people with diabetes. “But what we’re doing here with this program is a good component to improving the lives of people who have diabetes.”

Improving the Lives of the Most Vulnerable People with Diabetes 1

The program at Mary’s Center is part of the BD (also known as Becton Dickinson) Helping Build Healthy Communities initiative, which is funded by medical technology company BD and implemented in cooperation with Direct Relief, an organization that provides emergency medical assistance, and the National Association of Community Health Centers. Launched in 2013, the initiative aims to bring improved diabetes care directly to people living with diabetes by providing assistance “to health centers that serve vulnerable and diverse populations in the U.S. that are uninsured or underinsured with limited access to health care,” according to a statement from BD.

To date, BD has helped nearly 36,000 people with diabetes by donating $6 million in money and medical supplies to 26 community health centers, including $100,000 to Mary’s Center, as well as syringes and other supplies to more than 780 community health centers.

Andersson says the program at Mary’s Center, which is based on a similar educational initiative at the clinic to improve the treatment of hypertension, is designed specifically to help those most in need of assistance dealing with primarily type 2 diabetes.

“Many of our patients have a very low health literacy,” she says about the community Mary’s Center serves. “Many of them don’t know the difference between blood pressure and blood sugar. And they may not understand the importance of controlling their condition because they don’t feel ‘bad’ until it’s too late to reverse damage.”

Compounding this issue is the reality that, in today’s medical world, doctors don’t have a lot of time to provide to patients with information for improving their own care, which is vital for someone with diabetes.

“Physicians here, just like anywhere else, get 15 minutes to see a patient before they hand the patient off to a nurse.”

At Mary’s Center, that’s where the real work funded by the BD initiative begins.

Nurses at Mary’s Center work with patients one-on-one to provide them with valuable information on how to manage their condition on their own, including:

  • How to use a glucometer, which includes providing them with a glucometer if they don’t have one
  • recording glucose readings
  • adjusting their medication depending on their glucose levels, known as titration, in which a person takes so many units of insulin to counteract high glucose readings


That nuts-and-bolts counseling and information sharing is only the beginning of how nurses at Mary’s Center work closely with patients.

“We then give them some basics about the disease and how they can care for themselves,” Andersson says.

Pointing out the rarity of a healthcare provider telling a patient that they don’t want to take up too much of their time, Andersson says that for many of their patients, time is tight. Many of them are working low-income people who can’t afford to miss time away from their jobs.

After the office visit, patients get a daily, automated text or phone call reminding them to check their blood sugar and take their medication. In addition, a nurse from Mary’s Center calls patients every two weeks just to ask how they’re doing and if they can help them improve their care. The attention makes an enormous positive difference in patients’ lives, Andersson says.

“Our nurses give our patients their direct phone numbers,” she says. “Just having that number makes them feel like they have somebody at the clinic who is going to help them.”

Nurses are not the only ones to provide care through the program, Andersson says. “We are using the entire medical team to address these issues in effective ways,” she says. “We learn from each other and we communicate across the team. We are all working at the top of our license.”

Asked if such efforts put a strain on caregivers, Andersson says, “It’s a lot on us, but the feedback I get from team members is that this is what they want to be doing; this is why they chose this profession, and chose to work at Mary’s Center.”

With help from the BD Helping Build Healthy Communities, the program at Mary’s Center will continue.

“This will go on,” Andersson says, “because we consider this to be such a successful effort. We are lucky to work in an organization where we can give a lot of attention to people who really need it.”

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