Health coalition has new center, big plans

November 3, 2005

Health Coalition uses Harvest Foundation building to launch new program

Martinsville Bulletin Staff Writer

The Martinsville-Henry County Coalition for Health and Wellness has big plans for its new building in Ridgeway.

It intends to transform the building on U.S. 220 South near Sheetz from empty doctors' offices to a focal point for health education efforts for the area.

In the old waiting area, said Executive Director Barbara Jackman, there will be computers with links to medical information. Other parts of the building will be used to hold pamphlets and a library of health information, classrooms, screening rooms, offices and more.
"It gives us sort of a home base or central point to have classes, to have materials, to have people come and learn about various diseases," she said, although the center will also plan programs at other places in the community.

Though Jackman said the plan to make the center a place where people can walk in off the street for health information probably won't be realized until earlier next year, some of the changes are already under way.

A major part of this transformation will be the center's first educational program, a diabetes education program for diabetics and their families it hopes to start later this month.

Diabetes, Jackman said, is one of the main chronic disease issues identified by the 2003 study of health care issues that lead to the creation of the coalition.

Targeting this disease with the upcoming classes is part of the coalition's mission of helping the medically underserved in the area.

"Our main goal is to help people who are dealing with chronic disease be able to manage their disease better," she said.

A group of local health care officials and agencies is putting together the program, which Jackman said will be taught by local health care professionals like nurses, pharmacists and dietitians.

It will cover diet as well as the basics of taking proper care of oneself when living with diabetes, including foot care, food labels, shopping and other topics. Planners have also discussed adding some "fun" activities like a group shopping trip.

Members of the group working to put together the program say diabetes is a progressively serious problem across the country, and Martinsville and Henry County are no different.

Because of an increasing number of people who live sedentary lifestyles, the non-insulin dependent "adult onset" diabetes is even being diagnosed in local children now, they said.

"What was once an adult onset disease is now increasingly being seen in younger and younger people," Jackman said.

Martinsville-Henry County Diabetes Foundation member Mary Pickett said that though genetic factors help determine who develops diabetes, people who are already at risk genetically compound their chances of developing the disease through obesity and lack of exercise.

Today's children are making the wrong choices by eating late, eating fast food and staying glued to video games and computer screens, she said.

"We're also taking the position with the children that it's preventable," she said, by encouraging them to change these habits.

Nancy Sprinkle, president of the diabetes foundation, said socio-economic factors have also played a role in the current diabetes picture.

"Single-parent mothers who work, they have such time constraints," she said, and it's often difficult to provide healthy choices.

Also, members of the group said there are many people in the area who are not properly treating their diabetes.

"I'd say there are more people who don't treat their diabetes properly than do," Sprinkle said.

Susan Lester, a registered nurse in patient care education for Memorial Hospital, said untreated diabetes can cause serious health problems including wounds that don't heal, which can result in amputations and blindness.

Diabetes is a very difficult disease to cope with because it requires major lifestyle changes, Sprinkle said.

"It's not easy. It's very difficult," she said. She said she hopes some support group type efforts can grow out of the coalition programs.
Jackman said the group hopes to examine and evaluate the participants' health before the program and follow up about six months later to see if the classes had any effect.

Though the program will be free, participants must have a referral from a primary care physician to attend. Jackman said she hopes local physicians will use this as a tool to educate their patients.

Those without primary care physicians can still attend the program. Jackman said they simply need to contact the coalition office at

956-3587 and the coalition will help them find primary care. Anyone interested in more information about the classes should also call this number.

No dates have been set yet for the classes, which Jackman said would be day or evening classes depending on need. But the coalition hopes to start them later in November.

"We'll schedule the first class when we have enough participants for the class," she said.

Jackman said the coalition has also started programs on diabetes prevention through its Healthy Community Initiative, one of the programs under the umbrella of the coalition. The prevention information will be worked into the after-school programs, for which the initiative provides educational programming.

The coalition also plans to develop programming based on other chronic diseases such as hypertension.


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