Community Health Worker Helps Patient Work Towards Healthier Lifestyle

Nancy Bills enjoys living an active life. The 64-year-old Indianapolis resident enjoys working out, going for daily walks, swimming, water aerobics and cheering on her teenage grandson at his basketball games.

But Bills wasn’t always this active. She had a sedentary, sit-down job for many years. When her mother became ill, she put her own health on the backburner, eventually becoming very ill herself. She was diagnosed with stress-related diabetes, with numbers so high they were off the charts.

“That’s when I knew that this thing is really serious and it’s about to kill me,” Bills recalled. “And then I was assigned to LaTanya.”

Bills was referred to LaTanya Jefferson, a certified community health worker with Eskenazi Health, through the Diabetes Impact Project (DIP-IN), an initiative to help people living with diabetes improve their quality of life. Patients are referred by their primary care provider and DIP-IN helps connect individuals with a community health worker, like Jefferson, who provides in-home visits and helps individuals work towards healthier lifestyles. Those living within ZIP codes 46218, 46205, 46226, 46222, 46208, 46202 are eligible for free DIP-IN services.

Jefferson said community health workers also help address and eliminate any barriers to care they might be facing. Transportation to and from appointments can often times be a barrier to those seeking care. For Bills, who did not have transportation of her own and would walk to all her doctor appointments and procedures, at-home visits with her community health worker eliminated that barrier and provided instrumental consistency when starting on her health journey. Health workers can also help advocate for patients’ health, connecting them to health and social resources while providing social support and referrals to additional Eskenazi Health services, depending on the specific needs of each patient.

When initially connected with a patient, Jefferson said her goal is to meet them exactly where they are at in their health journey. When she first met Bills, rather than coming in with a pre-made plan, Jefferson took the time to get to know her. They set small goals together with the intention of working towards overall sustainable health and wellness. Weekly at-home visits helped establish a relationship between the two. Together, they broke down the importance of nutrition and exercise and how they work in tandem to naturally combat Bills’ diabetes through healthy living.

Bills described how Jefferson helped her understand the power of a healthy breakfast to start each day, a meal she would always previously skip. She learned about portion sizes and staying away from foods that are unfriendly to a diabetic lifestyle. Rather than eliminating those foods from her diet, Jefferson helped provide healthier alternative to some of Bills’ favorites. As Bills’ family loved to enjoy pasta dinners together, she now swaps the white-starchy noodles for ones made of vegetables. Jefferson also referred Bills to an Eskenazi Health dietitian for additional nutritional education specific to her medical needs.

In addition to learning about nutrition, Jefferson helped Bills realize the importance of physical activity. Bills shared with Jefferson that she used to love swimming. Jefferson reminded her that “you’re never too old to be active,” which motivated Bills to get back into the pool. She is now a member of the Jewish Community Center and visits three to four times a week to partake in a variety of aquatic classes.

Having Jefferson as an accountability partner was also key for Bills to stay on track with her new lifestyle.

“Knowing she’s coming to my house and I have to see this woman and I have to be accountable her, it really pushed me into, ‘Nancy, get this together, because she’s coming back!’”

While Bills initially dreaded Jefferson’s visits, she now looks forward to them and considers Jefferson a trusted friend and someone she truly enjoys spending time with.

“She's a sweetheart,” Bills said of Jefferson. “She has a spirit about her that's very easy. She's a very compassionate person.”

Bills has been a patient of Eskenazi Health for as long as she can remember and said she would recommend the health system to everyone. She offers nothing but praise for the providers who have cared for her over the years and have helped her work towards a healthier lifestyle, as the skills she learned have been invaluable.

“I am just so grateful for the help I have received from Eskenazi and continue to receive,” Bills said. “I just can't even put into words right now. I owe them my life.”

Bills also recommends an accountability partner – someone like Jefferson – who can not only provide the knowledge and facts to help work towards a healthy lifestyle, but also the motivation to keep going and never give up.

“Everybody needs a LaTanya,” she said. “In my situation, that was a blessing.”

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