Virginia Mason Educates Latino Community on Diabetes Prevention

Carmen, Virginia Mason nurse, teaching group
Carmen explains how diabetes occurs in the body.

"In this country, too many children sit and watch video games when they should be moving their bodies," says Beth Olenchek, Virginia Mason health educator, on a recent morning at the Mexican Consulate in downtown Seattle.  

Beth pauses so Virginia Mason Nurse Maria del Carmen Carrillo (Carmen) can translate her statement. The small room above the consulate is filled with about 20 people who have traveled from all over Washington state for help with paperwork and to receive health education. The group listens intently as Carmen explains in fluent Spanish how diabetes occurs, how it affects the body and why her audience should be worried about this disease for themselves and their children.

Through Virginia Mason's community health needs assessment (CHNA) it was determined our community falls far below the national Healthy People Goals in diabetes prevention. In fact, diabetes is becoming an epidemic both locally and nationally. In 2020, it's projected that one in three adults in our country will have type 2 diabetes. Public health and CDC data also show that Latinos are one of the fastest growing populations at risk for diabetes.

"Based on our needs assessment, we developed a diabetes prevention strategy that included creating a Spanish language diabetes prevention program," says Ingrid Ougland Sellie, Community Benefit program manager. "In January, we partnered with the Mexican Consulate's Ventanilla de Salud program and we now present our program six times during a two-day period every month. Our program helps about 140 to 150 Latinos a month."

"This has been a wonderful collaboration with Virginia Mason," says Karly Garcia, Ventanilla de Salud coordinator. "The knowledge they provide to educate the Latino community is appreciated. Their assistance in helping the community to understand healthy eating habits is providing them a proactive approach to a better lifestyle."

"When families come to the U.S. from Mexico and other countries, the culture is different here," explains Beth. "There's a lot of processed food and sugary drinks, portion sizes are huge, and kids can become less active. Carmen and I show how to build a healthy plate and encourage people to not overdo it when eating away from home. We also encourage parents to keep their kids active and not assume they're getting enough active play time during the school day."

"There is a big need to have programs like these for the Latino communities," adds Carmen, who works at Virginia Mason as a care manager. "I want to be the bridge between the two cultures. Since I am Mexican and I know about the diabetes epidemic, I want to participate in prevention of the disease. As a nurse, I can help the Mexican community with tools to understand this disease better. I can tell by the questions they are asking that they are engaged with the presentation and are coming away more aware about what diabetes is and how it affects their health."

The Virginia Mason Community Benefit department will continue to work with the Latino community through the consulate, health fairs and Spanish language radio. The program also has plans to expand to additional at-risk communities by the end of the year.