Spotlight: Jessica Downs, Clinical Operations

HealthStar’s Corporate team is a very diverse mix of all walks of life. Today, we are nurses (like Jessica), medical billers, and office support staff. But many winding paths have converged to bring this team together. With history in auto maintenance, real estate, finance, marketing, teaching, and even some folks who moved to the continental US from abroad, we really keep things interesting!

We are all problem solvers in one way or another, but the thing that really brings us together is our love of caring for others. We may not be direct, hands-on care staff, but we show our helping hands in other ways. There are lots of treats and shared meals, plenty of “feelings Friday” discussions where we show our support for each other, and lots of inside jokes. There are no cliques – we all get along. No, seriously! It’s not always easy, but because we truly care about each other, we give each other grace and try to understand where others are in their own unique battles.

As awesome as Corporate is, if you really want to see what makes HealthStar shine, what sets us apart, and what we are all working for every day – you’ll need to look outside our colorful and multi-angled Corporate walls. Look out into “the field,” where the rubber meets the road. Can you see our clinicians, our practitioners, and our front-line caregiving staff? Maybe you also see our service office locations and some of our Clients – they’re the reason Corporate exists! We work to serve, and we work hard to make sure that we serve well!

Who else do you see?

While you’re looking out there, do you see a blonde? Not just any blonde, but a blonde who really OWNS IT? Maybe you see her climbing out of a big pickup truck with her hair flowing in the wind. Her broad, radiant, feel-good smile touches everyone she walks past. That blonde hair is a statement, and the shoes and smile are the exclamation point. Her red shoes reflect her true passion – love for all people, and a strong desire to take care of those who need it. Watch out, now – she’s a hugger, but her hug melts your worries away and leaves you feeling lighter. Just who is this happy, high-heeled hugger, you ask? I’m proud to say, this bright and bubbly blonde is Jessica “Jess” Downs, HealthStar’s Director of Clinical Operations.

Talk about winding roads to HealthStar Corporate – prior to her decision to become an RN, Jessica had worked as a CNA in HealthStar’s Duluth office. Jess even once considered becoming an attorney! We’re sure glad she didn’t go that route. Instead, while working as a CNA in a nursing home, Jess was encouraged by a mentor to pursue a career in nursing and decided to give it a try.

What a great fit for her caring personality! After getting her degree, Jessica’s career in nursing kicked off in her home town of Duluth, MN, working in a surgical center and hospital. She later worked in Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and Arizona, in a variety of clinical roles including corrections nurse, hospice case manager, and Director of Nursing. Then, in 2014, Jessica’s winding road led her full-circle right back to HealthStar. Some things are just meant to be! Because we are in the “month of love,” we thought it would be a great time to tell you a little more about Jessica and her big-hearted ways. Jessica Downs, the HealthStar spotlight is on you!

Happiness is contagious

One of the first things that I noticed about Jessica is that she always seems So Happy. It’s an overwhelming happiness, like I imagine it would be if everyone’s Facebook self was real. She projects positivity and happiness into the world in front of her, like a blinding pink tractor beam, daring sadness to cross its path. If ethereal auras were visible, Jessica’s would be pink and fuzzy, and it would probably sparkle in the sunlight.

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Barb J, Michelle C, Julie S, Jessica D, Jean B.

Her happiness is wonderful in meetings, which are otherwise often dull and boring. Jess has a great laugh, bursting straight out of her heart; it is the glorious sound of freedom, a bird’s song of warm sunshine and wind ruffling his feathers as he soars through the open sky. Try to be stressed and frustrated in front of Jessica, I dare you. When you start to explain your problems, they suddenly won’t seem so bad any more. She’ll tell you “it’s OK, we’ll get through it.” And, poof – she’s right. It’s that simple. We will get through it.

Shine on, Jessica!

It’s easy to understand Jessica’s success in hospice, and as a nurse in general. A ray of sunshine in a cloudy and often difficult time, she’s exactly the type of personality to lift everyone’s spirits. Picture her sweet-talking her patients and showing them there’s nothing else that matters in the world. To Jessica, that’s the truth! She loves our HealthStar clients and pours her heart and soul into making sure that our team has the tools to deliver the best possible care!

While similar care is provided in both hospice and home care, there is a much more personal aspect to home care, because of the need for service to be provided in the Client’s living space. Jess has a great understanding of what this means to Clients. She expresses gratitude and compassion toward HealthStar’s Clients and says that she is honored to be invited into their homes. Her humility and friendliness help set Clients at ease.

Flexibility, much?

Some things are critical to a successful career at HealthStar. A sense of humor, I say. A love of food? Probably. The gift of patience? Can’t hurt. How about the ability to roll with the punches, to re-prioritize when a target shifts, or to “be the willow,” as our long-time employee Cathy Rivas-Carballo says. In my opinion, this is critical. HealthStar staff have an informal motto: “Give it a minute, things will change!”

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Michelle C, Karen M, Jean B, Jessica D, Julie S.

Why is flexibility important? Take Jessica’s HealthStar history as an example. In her RN role, she started at HealthStar shortly after our transition from PCA/HMK agency to Medicare-certified agency. In the time Jess has been with us, the layout, structure, and focus of HealthStar’s branch offices, the organizational chart, and even our office addresses have changed. We have added and subtracted service offerings, and we have changed software programs many, many times. Staff have come and gone, sometimes more than once. (We joke about a revolving door. In a good way!) Throughout all these changes, Jess and the rest of our Corporate staff have flexed and sometimes flailed in the wind, but with flexibility on our side, we haven’t broken. We almost never make jokes about having a new priority. Instead, we come together as a team, again and again, and figure out how to continue.

But wait, there’s more…

Jess has also ridden the wave of change in her personal journey at HealthStar. Not including her time as CNA, Jessica first worked at Corporate, transferred to Duluth, transferred back to Corporate, and now lives in the Duluth/Cloquet area but still represents the Corporate office. Wait, what? Don’t worry about the details; the moral of the story is, she’s plenty flexible, and she goes with the flow. Jessica’s humility and “true to your roots” attitude make her approachable, and she always talks us down off the branches when things get a little too windy in that willow tree.

Open heart, open mind

Something that not everyone may know about Jessica is that, in addition to being an RN, she embraces a very unique skill set of healing. She is a Certified Level II Reiki Practitioner and says that blending western medicine and alternative medicine helps her to treat people holistically. Reiki has been around for thousands of years and is sometimes called “the laying of hands.” In practice, Reiki focuses on the transfer of healing energy from practitioner to patient, to revitalize the healing energy in the patient.

Maybe this explains why Jess has such grace and love for all of us – by sensing the energy around her, she sees more than just a single facet of a person, giving her a greater understanding of what makes us all tick. By keeping an open mind, and trying something different, Jessica is bringing a new perspective to HealthStar. There is something different about Jessica, and maybe this explains a little bit of that difference. There’s a lot that we can’t fully understand, but instead of dismissing those things, Jessica has embraced possibility and puts healing energy to great use.

But what about those shoes?

Yes, Jessica has some of the cutest shoes that I’ve ever seen. With my big clompers, I won’t be wearing anything like her shoe wardrobe. She’s not shoe crazy, she just has good taste. I know, this is four things, and usually I only do three, but this one is short. Great shoes. Hardly counts as a fourth.

By the way, Jess – how do you drive that big pickup truck with those fashion forward shoes on? And do you still wear heels when you go ice fishing?

Thanks for the positivity!

Corporate is lucky to have Jessica’s happiness, positivity, flexibility, and open mind on our side. Her love of HealthStar’s Clients shines through in every meeting. She is absolutely a strong advocate and spokesperson for the Client’s perspective and needs in receiving care. Jessica has brought a wonderful attitude of love and acceptance to HealthStar Corporate, and she has extended that attitude to the branch offices and to all of our Clients. We can’t wait to show you the benefits of this sense of love and caring!

Spotlight: Julie Swedberg, Cass Lake

It’s easy to mistake HealthStar as just a Metro-Area agency, with Corporate, Twin Cities Skilled, and Inver Grove Heights all being around the metro. But we have more offices outside the metropolis than in it! Looking north, you’ll find some of HealthStar’s craftiest and thriftiest “family members” in the Cass and Bemidji offices. Julie Swedberg, Branch Manager (aka Thrift Master) brings many talents to HealthStar’s Cass Lake office. She’s dedicated to serving HealthStar’s unique Client base and spends her time spreading warm, fuzzy feelings all through the land of Cass!

Inspired by her sister’s experiences as a CNA, Julie got her CNA certification and worked in a nursing home early in her health care career, and later became an LPN. Julie says that to feel the love and trust that patients have towards her as a nurse has been priceless. Her studies continued with a 2-year business degree, and in 2015 she found herself with multiple job offers (of course!). Lucky for us, HealthStar won the dangerous duel for Julie’s heart, and she joined our team as Branch Manager.

A Running Start

Oh boy, did Julie hit the ground running! Julie started during a period of great stress and transition for HealthStar. The Cass Lake office was going through some changes, to put it mildly. Things have settled down since then, thanks to Julie’s “special touch.” She knows how to take things in stride, and she doesn’t get too riled up during difficult times. Julie says that her love of gardening helps her stay calm – she loves to take photos of her flower gardens and often spends time thinking through her current challenges and stresses while walking through the flowers.

Keeping herself grounded and stress-free sure comes in handy when our HealthStar family gets together. Julie’s calm and matter-of-fact ways help keep us all on track and on time! But don’t let her “down to business” routine fool you – Julie has a great sense of humor and loves to stir up some fun. Her laugh comes up from her toes! And if you want to see her soft side, just ask about her sons. We’ve all met the little one, Ryker – he’s a Corporate Meeting Regular! Without further ado – please allow me to share with you my three favorite things about Julie. Julie Swedberg, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

An “old school” master chef

Julie’s mastery in the kitchen is appreciated by many mouths and stomachs across the land. In between office hours, community events, sports with the kids, and family time, Julie somehow finds time to preserve her own jellies and jams. She does this in large enough quantity that she sells them at the community farmers’ market! I can say as a personal recipient of Julie’s “jam variety pack” that this stuff is DELICIOUS! I would eat it with a fox, in a box, on a train, in the rain, and anywhere else for that matter. Yum!

Canning isn’t her only kitchen specialty, though – Julie can bake, sauté, steam, sear, and roast, too. She’s like a human instant pot, so many functions that you just can’t get enough! She’s not afraid of a little chopping – it lets her exercise her aggressive side. Yeah, she can get tough when she needs to, but most of the time she doesn’t. She gets pretty far with honey.

Julie’s love of cooking has a family history; her mom is also an awesome cook. Sometimes, they team up for community events – I know Julie’s mom makes a killer fry-bread taco! Why, oh why couldn’t Julie have grown up in the Metro so that I can have a fry-bread taco? It’s so true that life just isn’t fair.

Oh, so thrifty!

Julie pretends to come down to Corporate for meetings, but we’re pretty sure she actually comes down for the thrift store shopping. She makes a great round of the local thrift stores when she’s in town. Sometimes, she goes with Chasidy Myhrer, Bemidji Operations Manager (aka “hammer of the north”). They are a sight to behold, with so much treasure for so little cost! Great taste, great value – if Julie had a personal motto, that might just be it. I’m so jealous of her saving ways. I’ve never seen a dollar stretched so thin.

This special thrifting ability doesn’t just apply to shopping for Julie’s family, though. She also puts her special thrifty talents to work for her office, squeezing every penny out of her dollars. She considers her office budget with every decision she makes, going so far as to do her own cooking for events – lucky for the guests!

We didn’t know it when we hired Julie, but she’s a package deal, and we are so lucky for it! She gets her family involved in planning and hosting duties, which helps keep down the cost of extra help. Aside from helping out with community events on several occasions, Julie’s mom has also become our official “Corporate Meetings Mom,” always stopping in to say hello with Ryker when they’re in town. We’ve decided to make Ryker our official Corporate Meeting Mascot. It’s always nice for our HealthStar family to see the Swedberg family!

Heart full of love!

No one asks Julie to come to community events. They just put her on the schedule and tell her she’s coming! She’s made a name for herself in the community, and she and HealthStar are so proud of this! We’ve seen (and posted) photos of her spectacular booth setup at events; she really makes it look homey and comfortable. Julie doesn’t need much of an arm twist to help in the community – she gets involved because she loves it! She makes community events a priority for herself and her family because she wants to see the Cass Lake community thrive. Her energy and enthusiasm help get others going at events, which is why she is always invited back! The warmth and kindness that Julie brings with her to work is the same warmth and kindness that she pours into every event she attends.

Julie doesn’t save all of her love for community events, though. She also likes to know all about the people she works with, so that she can show us some love, too! At the recent Corporate meetings, Julie was spotted taking notes about everything, from Corporate updates down to each person’s personality type and conflict resolution style. “You never know when this kind of thing might come in handy,” she says.

Julie’s love for her community also translates to love for her Clients and staff. Julie is friendly and caring, and she expects her team to follow her example (which they do very well!). Call the Cass Lake office, and you’ll probably talk to Michelle Colliflower or Jean Bartell, two of the nicest and funniest ladies in Cass Lake! Karen rounds out the group with plenty of experience, wisdom, and patience. Julie puts a lot of love into this team, and it shows! This great group offers PCA, HMK, and skilled services in the Cass Lake area, and they are determined to show the love of their office to all of their Clients and field staff!

Julie, all wrapped up

Julie is like a pioneer woman, mixed with a kindergarten teacher, mixed with a ferocious lion – she has amazing kitchen skills, she loves to show her kind side, but when she needs to, she bares those teeth and gets things done! She represents HealthStar just the way we like it – leading with kindness and support, delicious with a touch of spice and a whole lot of love. Visit the HealthStar booth at the next Cass Lake health fair and find out what you’ve been missing!

And Julie – thanks for the jam, I’ve finished most of it and I’ll be patiently waiting for another shipment. 😊

Spotlight: Nilda Garcia, Sagrado Corazón

Nilda Garcia and Sagrado Corazón: HealthStar’s Spanish-Speaking Support Service

Spanish-speaking Clients of HealthStar are very familiar with Nilda Garcia. She is the warm and caring voice of the Sagrado Corazón (Sacred Heart) program for Latino Clients of HealthStar. For 10 years, Nilda has been putting her “special touch” on everything that she does, from event planning to office organization and troubleshooting IT problems. With her recent promotion to Program Manager of Sagrado Corazón, Nilda is ready for action with renewed energy and focus. Nilda, the HealthStar Spotlight is on you!

A little history

Nilda has been with HealthStar since 2008, when she started as an Assistant Program Coordinator in HealthStar’s basement suite on Bloomington and 21st. Then, in 2009, Nilda helped open the West St. Paul office – the original home of Sagrado Corazón. But don’t get too comfortable, Nilda! Just a year later, HealthStar moved from the location on 21st into another building on Franklin Ave in Minneapolis. The West St. Paul office merged into the new location as well.

Nilda made the Franklin office her new home as an Assistant Program Development Liaison. She worked in the community and continued as primary contact for Sagrado Corazón. During the next 2 years, Nilda helped HealthStar achieve Medicare certification and had a front-row seat for the beginning of HealthStar’s Mental Health initiative. In 2010, Nilda watched Corporate move from Maplewood to a new building in North St. Paul. Then, In 2017, the Franklin office moved to a new location in Inver Grove Heights. Once again, Nilda unpacked and organized a new space. This new location is beautiful, with big windows and lots of wild turkeys outside! It’s a great place to re-focus and re-energize. Throughout all these changes, Nilda’s positive attitude and sense of humor kept her office mates in good spirits!

 Nilda, how do you do it all?

So, what makes Nilda tick? How can she weather all these changes and still be a constant source of positive energy? A secret about Nilda – she has superpowers. Lots of them. I’ll tell you about some, but you must promise not to say that I told you. Nilda doesn’t like to be the center of attention and won’t want everyone talking about her special abilities.

Superpower #1

Nilda’s first superpower is that she is amazing with event planning. She loves to get people together and celebrate! Nilda’s smile and laugh bring light and joy to the group. She is a great cook and loves to try new foods. Nilda says that her favorite thing about HealthStar is the family atmosphere. Working here is like working at a family gathering, because you’re surrounded by happy people who care about each other. Nilda fondly remembers when a special Client celebrated her 100th birthday last year – with Nilda at the party, of course! Nilda especially loves planning events for Sagrado Corazón, because she gets to use one of her other superpowers – the Latina superpower!

Superpower #2

Nilda’s Latina superpower comes from her family in South Texas, on the border of Mexico. Nilda loves to celebrate her Latina roots with the Sagrado Corazón team. She is always willing to help teach a little Spanish on the side, which has been one of my personal favorite things about working with Nilda. She is a very lenient Spanish teacher, unlike Cristina Hernandez, Corporate and Twin Cities Skilled Admin – also a superpowered Latina, but much stricter in the Spanish-speaking department! A little-known fact is that Nilda is close friends with Cristina’s mother, Marisol. Get them together, and I can only imagine the cooking and laughing!

Superpower #3

The last superpower that I will reveal about Nilda is that she is a multi-talented and very organized superheroine. She processes payroll, troubleshoots technology issues, and answers phones in two languages (backing up the lovely and talented Barbara Edwards at IGH), all while drinking her French vanilla coffee and running around in her high heels. Nilda is a positive force at the Inver Grove office, keeping things fun and exciting for the team. She has a fabulous sense of humor and is not afraid to pull pranks to get everyone in a good mood. She once dressed up the CPR dummy and scared RN Sue Schaber by leaving it in the bathroom overnight. Boy, was Sue surprised when she came in early thinking she had the office to herself!

Nilda says that her greatest accomplishment at HealthStar is learning to walk in another person’s shoes. She appreciates learning with her team and is grateful for the opportunities that HealthStar offers for personal and professional growth. She knows that she has great things ahead with Sagrado Corazón, and is looking forward to putting renewed focus and energy into the program. We hope you’ll check out what Sagrado Corazón has to offer, and learn more about our awesome team!

Keeping Traditions Alive and Celebrating Different Cultures Through the Holidays

The holidays are upon us and with this time of year comes opportunity to spend time with family and friends, giving to those in need, and traditions rich with fond memories and cultural celebrations.

Minnesota is home to a diverse cultural population and HealthStar Home Health is proud to serve families in many of these cultures. We often see families passing on holiday traditions to the next generation. Here are some of the cultures we work with and a little about their traditions.

The Hmong New Year is a huge celebration in the Hmong community with many family members traveling to be part of the extravagant festivities. St. Paul, Minnesota plays host to the New Year celebration which typically lasts up to 5 days and includes sports tournaments, pageants, and other contests or forms of entertainment, along with feasts of delicious traditional Hmong food. Historically, the Hmong New Year was celebrated to give thanks to ancestors and spirits as well as to welcome a new beginning. Although there are no dress code requirements, many Hmong Americans choose to wear traditional Hmong clothing during this time. The Hmong New Year celebration typically occurs late November to early December, which is the end of the rice harvesting season when all their work is done and serves as a Thanksgiving holiday for the Hmong people.

Minneapolis and St. Paul are home to thriving Latino communities. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Catholicism plays an important role in the daily lives of Latinos and many Latino homes include an altar for prayer with statues of saints. The parish church is the center of the Latino community. Some of Latin America’s most recognized traditions are associated with this time of year. Parents use this opportunity to develop their children’s cultural identity and spend time with family by sharing these holiday traditions. One important Mexican festival is the Las Posadas, which is a nine-day event commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph before the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. Often, there are reenactments and processions at church or in their homes to celebrate this with their family and community.

The most popular Russian holiday is their New Year celebration, which leads into the Orthodox Christmas celebration. The Russian New Year holiday is traditionally a 5-day non-working holiday from January 1 through January 5. Traditionally there is a decorated New Year tree and the Russian children believe in the mythical Grandfather Frost. Much like Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost is a beloved character who wears a long blue or red coat with a matching hat, and carries gifts in a large sack on his back. Grandfather Frost also carries a magical staff that has the power to freeze everything around him. Many attend New Year’s parties where it is customary to dress up in costume and children memorize a poem or song to recite for Grandfather Frost in exchange for a small gift. There is plenty of traditional Russian food and drink to share with family and friends.

Pow Wows are a time to put aside differences and focus on celebrating life and traditions. The Ojibwe Native Americans celebrate many different traditions, but the most well-know may be the Pow Wow celebration. This is a time when they come together to celebrate their history and religion using various art forms, such as dance, music, and art. The drum is the main focus of the Pow Wow. Made of wood and hide, approximately three feet in diameter, its circular shape represents the circle of life. The drum is a very sacred object, made only for sacred use, and before the Pow Wow drum can be pounded or used in a ceremony it must be blessed by an elder. Thru the drum, the Ojibwe are reminded of their connection to Mother Earth. Selling or trading arts, feasting on traditional foods, song, and dance are all very important aspects of a Pow Wow.

HealthStar Home Health offers culturally-relevant services that address the unique needs of our Minnesota, Arizona and New Mexico populations. We promote independence and self-sufficiency by empowering patients and their families to be active participants in the provision of care. Using culturally-sensitive approaches, HealthStar Home Health offer our clients a wide variety of services in home health care, community based care, mental health, and personal care assistance with focused sensitivity to economic factors and health beliefs. Call HealthStar Home Health today at 651-633-7300 for more information or to schedule a no-charge consultation to discuss the many services we can customize to your needs.

First Nations Home Health

HealthStar Home Health is proud to announce the launch of a new website and an initiative with First Nations Home Health – Minnesota’s premier provider of home health services for Native American communities.

First Nations Home Health emerged as a response to community need to provide culturally relevant services to underserved populations. What began in 2003 in Minneapolis as a handful of caregivers has grown to a team including nursing & therapy staff and administrative employees serving communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New Mexico.

Our mission is to provide unparalleled public health care services while respecting the unique needs of our culturally diverse clientele through stewardship, honor-driven values, and a genuine desire to serve. One way we fulfill our mission is to serve communities by empowering people with mobility, cognitive and sensory disabilities live more independent lives at home. We also help the Native American communities we serve by identifying and focusing on common health issues such as heart disease and diabetes.

It is extremely difficult to care for a senior loved one at home and we understand how overwhelming it can be. First Nations Home Health serves the Native American population with an approach that is culturally sensitive to the unique and ethnic needs of the communities. Our services are specifically designed to enhance the health and well-being of those living on and off the reservations supported by First Nations Home Health. Here is just a sampling of what we offer:

Home Health Care Services

  • Skilled Services
  • Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care
  • Behavioral Nursing
  • Private Duty Nursing

Mental Health Services

  • Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS)
  • Adult Rehabilitative Mental Health Services (ARMHS)

Personal Care Services

  • Traditional

Home and Community Based Services

  • Homemaking
  • Respite
  • Chores
  • Companion Care

We are proud to say we hire from within the community whenever possible and complete a full background study on each in-home caregiver, as well as a face-to-face interview, reference checks and competency evaluation. Once on board, all employees are provided training and many are trained at the home health aid level. Our team of caregivers, nurses and case managers consistently provide services that allow your aging loved ones to stay at home in familiar cultural surrounding, develop good health habits and reduce hospitalizations. With skilled professionals who provide a broad range of quality programs and services, our goal is to improve the health status of Native Americans who experience an unusually high rate of preventable illnesses.

At First Nations Home Health, we seek to understand and address the key issues that affect the health of individuals and families in the Native American community, providing culturally competent health care services, and engaging in prevention and health education initiatives. We deliver care with integrity, compassion, respect, and dignity. We look forward to serving you.

Diabetes and the Native American Population

The numbers are alarming. 40% of Native Americans in Minnesota have diabetes according to Lori Watso, a former public health nurse and Shakopee tribe member as quoted in a Star Tribune article. This epidemic will continue to expand as Native Americans are nearly twice as likely as whites to become obese, more than twice as likely to have Type II diabetes and, among children, the rate of obesity and diabetes will soon reach 50% according to a report by the Shakopee Mdwakanton Sioux Community. Not limited to a few tribes living on reservations, the entire northern part of Minnesota contains four of the five least healthy counties where two-fifths of the population in Mahnomen County (least healthy) is Native American, 11.9% in Cass (#2) and 20.8% in Beltrami (#5). This according to County Health Rankings from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin). These numbers are not at all surprising to us here at Healthstar Home Health as it’s a common health issue we treat through our First Nations and Circle of Life Home Health initiatives. Karen Moses, RN Case Manager in our greater Minnesota branch location says that 90% of her clients have diabetes and 99% are Native American. By offering home health care services on the Red Lake, White Earth, Leech Lake, Bois Fort, Fond du Lac and Mille Lacs Reservations, we see firsthand the affects of diabetes and are working to empower patients and their families to be active participants in the solution.

Risk Factors

Obesity
With an abundance of fat cells in the body, insulin cannot do its job which is to take glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and pack it into healthy cells. Gaining as little as 10 pounds over 15 years can double your insulin resistance and increase your risk of diabetes. Obese adults are seven times more likely to develop diabetes compared to adults at a healthy weight. But, for the Native American population, what causes obesity?

Poor Nutrition
Prior to the Civil War, Type 2 diabetes was practically non-existent. Following the war, Indians were forced onto reservations and the government began providing food commodities according to Devon Abbott Mihesuah, a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma who runs the American Indian Health and Diet Project at the University of Kansas.  Wild rice and grains gave way to flour, processed cheese and macaroni and low fat meats such as fish, deer and rabbit was replaced by beef and pork.

Sedentary Lifestyle
Also prior to the Civil War, Native Americans lived off the land which kept them active with fishing, harvesting, gathering and trapping. With the lack of a replacement to these activities and acquisitions of motorized vehicles, a once active community found themselves sitting often with very little exercise.

Genetics
The thrifty gene hypothesis penned by James V. Neel states that some populations have genes which enable them to efficiently maintain higher levels of healthy fat during periods of food abundance that is depleted during periods of shortage (feast and famine). While this hypothesis has often been disputed, the activity and types of foods involved with storing food for the winter do give credence to a difference in lifestyle. Genetic markers and body type also indicate a genetic predisposition to diabetes.

Alcoholism
According the Indian Health Services, the rate of alcoholism among Native Americans is six times the U.S. average. Alcohol is often high sugar and carbohydrates which quickly turns into fat. Depression is associated with alcoholism which leads to a host of other health factors.

Treatments

Medication
Pills and insulin injections are the most commonly prescribed treatments. It is still up to the patient to take the medication which can be an issue.

Nutrition Programs
Residents at the Little Earth of United Tribes are growing food common to their ancestors which they call the “decolonized diet” according to a Star Tribune article. Nutrition counseling that we offer through First Nations Home Health includes reading labels and eating all 5 food groups in moderation.

Exercise Programs
Childhood obesity is prevalent int the Native American Population. To combat this, the diabetic fitness center at the reservation on Leech Lake, MN holds fitness programs, camps and a walk-a-thon to bring awareness to the issue. Members can get a doctor’s prescription to use the center safely and employees of the tribal government are given a 30 minute break per day specifically to exercise.

Dangers if Not Treated
If diabetes is not treated or properly controlled, the body starts eating away at muscle as it tries to burn muscle for energy. Other health issues that could occur:

  • Neuropathy (numbness) in feet & toes
  • Ulcers
  • Gangrene
  • Blindess
  • Damage to eyes, kidneys and liver

Even with all of these treatments, the epidemic is getting worse. That is why the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community is partnering with the University of Minnesota and two other nonprofits to launch Seeds of Native Health whose goal is to offer better access to healthy food which focusing on education and research. Here at HealthStar, our Native American-specific programs (First Nations and Circle of Life) offers equitable access to health care in order to reduce health disparities in diverse communities. Our cultural competence program, the 24ECC, internalizes the values of those we serve.