Diabetes has long been health care enemy number one in the South Dallas neighborhood of Frazier, where 60% of residents are unemployed and 33% live below the poverty level. State health statistics reported in 2010 that Frazier residents were nearly three times more likely to die of diabetes than anywhere else in the Dallas metropolitan area.
“When we looked at the people who were coming into our emergency department [from the neighborhood] 72% were diagnosed with diabetes, whether they knew they had the disease or not,” says Baylor Health Care System trustee and former chairman Albert Black.
Contributing to the problem was a lack of primary health care services or a grocery store that sold fresh food.
Black grew up near Frazier. As a Baylor board member, he saw no greater priority for the organization than to reach into the community and address its diabetes problem. Working as a 16-year-old in a summer jobs-training program at Baylor University Medical Center, Black says he “got a feeling for what health care was for some people, what it wasn’t for other people, and what it could be for all of us. I kept those thoughts until I was in a position to do something about it.”
Inspired by Black’s vision, Dallas-based Baylor Scott & White Health and the city of Dallas formed a partnership with 17 other collaborative groups to revamp an underused recreation center and open the Diabetes Health and Wellness Institute (DHWI) in 2010. The institute, with its family health center and a variety of health prevention and wellness programs and services, has become the community’s access point to better health.
Its support of the diabetes center earned Baylor Scott & White Health a 2016 AHA NOVA Award, which recognizes hospital-led partnerships that are improving the community’s health.
In addition to the family health center, DHWI offers a primary care clinic, diabetes education services and a demonstration kitchen to help residents with healthful eating. The 22 acres surrounding the center provide space for tennis and basketball courts, walking paths and lifestyle classes. A weekly hospital-sponsored farmers’ market – held every Friday – brings fresh fruits and vegetables to the community. Farm stands now regularly pop up at neighborhood churches as well.
Community events such as DHWI cook-offs, neighborhood wellness fairs and an annual Healthy Harvest 5K bring the community together to inform residents about what’s going on at the institute.
“We created an integrated care model that works to improve the health of the community as well as the health of the individual by bringing services that are truly needed,” says hospital president and CEO Joel Allison. “Mr. Black brought a vision and he wanted a center of excellence around type 2 diabetes, and that is what we have created.”
The hospital recruited community members – many from the congregations of neighborhood churches – to educate their neighbors about the resources available at DHWI. These diabetes PEERS (for Prevention, Empowerment, Education, Resources, Support) became the program’s eyes and ears into the community, raising awareness and identifying and addressing needs.
“We could have trained our own people and parachuted them into the community and said, ‘these are the folks that are going to teach you,’ but our community leaders told us there was a better way of engaging the community,” says Donald Wessin, M.D., DHWI’s director. “The pastors are trusted agents. They have a valued relationship within the community and so we turned to them to be our educators.”
Critical to the initiative’s success has been the “great collaboration between the center and the churches,” says Rev. Lelious Johnson, pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church and president of DWHI’s 11-member ministerial advisory board. The board has played an important role in connecting DHWI staff to church leaders at more than 100 churches in Dallas.
“There is a strong bond between the hospital and the churches and the communities,” says Johnson, who credits “Baylor Scott and White Health for bringing the idea to us,” and for their long-term commitment to the health and wellness institute.
“From the very beginning they brought the very best doctors and nurses and administrators to DHWI,” he says. “That means a lot to me. It means they are very serious about making this successful.”
More than 5,500 residents participate in DHWI programs and activities. During the past few years, hospital emergency department and inpatient visits have declined – “good data that says our population health strategies are working,” says DHWI director Wessin. “We are engaging the community to have them take control of things they can do to improve their health as opposed to the traditional health system approach of waiting until individuals become sick and they try to restore their health from illness.”
The partners keep the program community-based, guided and informed. “We’ve learned that the community can best show us how to help the community,” says Crystal Ross, the city’s assistant director for parks and recreation.
She sees a welcome shift in peoples’ attitudes. “People want to be more active,” Ross says. “They want to be more engaged with their family. They take advantage of the farmers’ market. And the demand [for DHWI services and resources] continues to grow.”
Healthy people make healthier neighborhoods, and the diabetes center has given hope for a healthier future to Frazier residents, says Dallas Councilwoman Tiffinni Young, whose district includes the neighborhood. “The hospital stepped up to the plate,” she says. “It has gone an extra mile in helping this community get healthier through the education and services it provides. Its presence makes a huge difference in the lives of so many.”
The institute’s most recent health statistics for the community were included in the hospital’s AHA NOVA Award application. As of July 31, 2015, 40% of DWHI’s diabetic members had achieved optimal blood sugar levels and 67% had reached optimal blood pressure control. Hospital officials believe the program has made even more progress since then.
“The results and outcomes speak for themselves,” says CEO Allison. “The institute has turned into a destination around wellness, prevention, exercise and a how-to on avoiding diabetes.”
Baylor trustee Black says he is proud of how the community trusts and appreciates DHWI. “I sit in that lobby and see women, men and youngsters come through the door with that look of confidence that they are in the right place for their medical care,” he says. “I like that.”
Hear Allison explain why hospitals, like Baylor, Scott & White Health, are redefining their roles within their communities.