By Liz Hovel and Erin McGlynn, Community HealthCorps® Members, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC), Milwaukee
Each year, over 200,000 women in the United States develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during their pregnancy. Racial and ethnic disparities are rampant in GDM; Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, and American Indians are especially at risk. As AmeriCorps members serving with Community HealthCorps in Chronic Care (Liz) and Women’s Wellness (Erin), we noticed the prevalence of GDM in our culturally diverse Milwaukee community and were motivated to do something about it.
Gestational diabetes programming at SSCHC, was started five years ago by Myriam Olivera, and is currently coordinated by Carmen Cosme. According to Carmen, GDM offerings have historically been “very educational but missing the fun part of movement.” As fitness enthusiasts, we saw the perfect opportunity to get involved! Capitalizing on our collective experiences in exercise and nutrition, we dedicated ourselves to the creation of “HealthyPregnancies,” our innovative and multi-dimensional prenatal program that we believe will contribute to healthy futures for moms and babies in Milwaukee’s south side.
We knew that it would be a cooperative effort to develop a class that best helps our patients prevent and manage GDM. Carmen is an excellent mentor, and in true community health center style, a variety of SSCHC staff members from midwives to nutritionists have been our best resources throughout this process. As Community HealthCorps® teammates, we also find ourselves in a unique position to collaborate across departments. Our interdisciplinary partnership combines the diabetes expertise of Chronic Care staff and a strong connection with the patients most at risk for GDM via Women’s Wellness.
During the program development, we considered the social determinants of health for our patient base in order to accommodate the increasingly diverse population served by SSCHC. For example, our class is bilingual so that Spanish and English speakers can equally benefit, free so that financial barriers are eliminated for all patients, and offered in two locations complete with child enrichment (thanks to Community HealthCorps teammate Bethany Canales) so that patients without transportation or child care can attend. During our class, we also debunk myths about “eating for two” and “avoiding all exercise” during pregnancy, which are common due to lack of education.
On October 11, “HealthyPregnancies/EmbarazosSaludables” was born! The program was “brought to life by our Community HealthCorps® Members in collaboration with myself,” Carmen says. Since then, we have been offering hour-long classes during which we lead our patients in dynamic stretching, low-impact dance aerobics, and prenatal yoga. The class also features themed nutrition education and the occasional healthy snack.
Our regular participants love having such a comprehensive class made comfortable for pregnant women to meet and support one another; several of them have already delivered healthy, full term babies! In turn, we have been empowered by the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives and will be stronger health care providers in the future because of it.