Partnership Brings Diabetes Workshops to Rural Virginia

July 18, 2017

Program Improves Outcomes for People with Diabetes

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Nelson County, Virginia, Blue Ridge Medical Center (BRMC) is no stranger to the health challenges facing rural communities. From unemployment and poverty to higher rates of chronic disease, Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like BRMC face unique challenges as they help patients and families improve their health.

But a new partnership among BRMC, the Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS), the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) and Health Quality Innovators (HQI) is helping people with diabetes understand their condition and the steps they can take to improve their health. BRMC recently hosted its second Diabetes Self-Management Program (DSMP) workshop, an evidence-based program developed by Stanford University.

Margaret and Dick Weiglein

According to Denise Tuso, RN, outreach nurse at BRMC, the DSMP workshops are helping patients take charge of their health and take active steps to avoid complications from diabetes. Although BRMC has offered educational programs in the past, the workshop’s focus on peer-to-peer learning and sharing strengthens its impact on participants.

“What stands out about the DSMP format is the collaboration that occurs among the class participants. By the third class, people are bonding and openly sharing their struggles as well as what is working for them,” Tuso said.

Margaret and Dick Weiglein are among the workshop participants. Margaret was diagnosed with diabetes nearly 10 years ago; Dick is there to support his wife and to improve his own health.

“The workshop has taught me to treat my health as a job 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I must advocate for myself and manage the choices I make each day. No one is going to step in to do this for me,” Margaret said.

Elden Gordon

Although Dick is not diabetic, he believes his new knowledge is helping him stay healthy and avoid chronic conditions down the road. “I want to understand what I can do to maintain my health,” he said. “Now, my wife and I are not as haphazard as we used to be. We are much more conscious of the meals we eat.”

Elden Gordon, signed up for the workshop after a visit with his doctor. His A1C level was elevated and he wanted to avoid taking additional medications. Over the course of the six-week class, he shed 10 pounds and changed his eating habits.

“I think most people know what diabetes is, but this class has taught me how to apply that knowledge to my daily life,” Gordon said. “Now, I know how to count my carbs and fat and I keep track of what I eat.”

Evidence-based Approach to Improving Health
DSMP workshops are relatively new to BRMC, but the staff is already seeing benefits including weight loss, lowered A1C levels and greater engagement with clinicians. According to Tuso, the program’s strengths include:

  • Group Discussions: Group brainstorming and sharing build trust within the group, ensuring that participants feel supported and encouraged.
  • New Knowledge: Participants learn how to eat healthy on a budget, stay active, manage depression and manage medication. They receive a free copy of Living a Healthy Life with Chronic Conditions to reinforce what they learn.
  • Identifying Goals: Each week, participants set at least one goal and create action plans to help them achieve small victories. Margaret achieved her goal, losing five pounds, and credits this approach with her success.
  • Communication: Participants learn to communicate with their health care providers and get answers to questions.

Peggy Whitehead, chief executive officer at BRMC, believes the workshops are a great fit for organizations like FQHCs. She recommends a multi-pronged outreach approach including promotion on social media and in local newspapers. Direct outreach to patients with diabetes is beneficial, particularly with people who are recently diagnosed or those who are struggling with weight loss or high A1C levels.

“It is helpful for providers seeing those patients to refer them to the group and actively encourage their participation. Providers have the most influence over their patients and can really make a difference in the success of a group,” Whitehead said.

Moving forward, BRMC not only plans to host additional workshops, but is also discussing other ways to support patient success. For example, they want to host a support group to offer ongoing opportunities for DSMP “graduates” to learn and share.

“Our health center is evolving and responding to patient needs based on these classes. Everyone wants to be involved and to explore ways to support patients with diabetes,” Tuso said.

HQI Can Help
Are you interested in helping your community combat complications of diabetes? HQI partners with local organizations to offer DSMP and chronic disease workshops in Maryland and Virginia. Contact us today, 804.289.5320 or email

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