Photo: Alex Ostasiewicz / Americares
A program of the Boehringer Ingelheim AmeriCares Free Clinic in Danbury is helping uninsured patients better manage chronic disease through exercise and diet changes.
Health coaches work one-on-one with patients who have conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol to help them reach health goals. Seventy patients who completed the program, or who have been participating for the last 12 months, were evaluated and 96 percent experienced improvements in at least one clinical measure.
Karen Gottlieb, AmeriCares Free Clinics executive director, said coaches work with participants to set realistic goals.
“Patients finish the program understanding they cannot rely on medication alone to address their health issues,” she said.
AmeriCares Frees Clinics launched the health coach program in 2016 with funding from the Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation to give patients the knowledge, skills and confidence to self-manage their disease. BI, a pharmaceutical company, is based in Ridgefield.
“The Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation supports the health coach program because it closely aligns with our mission of improving patients’ lives and strengthening our communities,” said Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation President Karen Iannella.
Weight loss was the most notable improvement with two-thirds of the participants losing weight. The coaches work with patients to learn to read and understand nutrition labels and control portion size. Other improvements were noted in blood glucose, triglycerides and systolic blood pressure.
Participants are referred to the program by volunteer staff doctors and nurses. The health coaches help patients understand their providers’ instructions and work with them to develop individual action plans that include diet and exercise goals. Participants meet with their coach once every 20 days, on average. The coaches also attend patients’ medical visits at the clinic.
The clinic provides free medical care to low-income area residents of Danbury and surrounding towns without health insurance. Each year, more than 1,000 patients receive medical care through the clinic and its community partners.
“We have a long-standing partnership with AmeriCares and are proud to build on the strength of our existing programs to help with one of the hardest aspects of healthy living– behavior change,” Lilly Ackley, president, Boehringer Ingelheim Cares Foundation, said when the initiative was launched. “Health adherence is central to a patient’s overall success, and by putting resources in place to improve it, we are working together towards a healthier community.”
Patients who participated in a focus group credited the coaches with giving them encouragement to eat fewer carbohydrates and many said the program has changed the way they shop for groceries and the meals they serve their families.
“There’s a ripple effect,” said Danbury Clinic Director Dina Valenti. “It’s not just one patient becoming healthier; the whole family is healthier.”