Published: May 28, 2013
Deb Evans describes herself as "kind of a smart-assy person," so when she had a personality clash with a dour instructor in a diabetes class 10 years ago, that was it.
Even though Evans had just been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, a disease that can cause debilitating and life-threatening complications if left untreated, it wasn't enough to make her change her lifestyle.
"I kind of ran amok, and I was kind of sick," Evans says. "It was not good."
Then, about 18 months ago, she started going to another doctor, who recommended that she go to the Diabetes Community Center, a nonprofit tucked away in a small office building on North Weber Street. All she could think of was her bad experience with the class.
"I'm thinking, 'oh no; here I go again," she says. "So my attitude was not real good when I started."
Today? She's a loyal fan of Andrea Houk, a registered nurse who co-founded the nonprofit and provides one-on-one counseling sessions, classes and other support services to help people affected by diabetes, Types 1 or 2.
Under Houk's care, Evans changed her eating habits and switched to an insulin pump, freeing her from a regimen of four to five insulin shots a day. Her blood sugar levels dropped, as well as her weight.
"I've lost 40 pounds, through Andrea's help and through my doctor's help," says Evans, 64, "She changed me rapidly. I learned so much from that woman, it was unbelievable."
Houk says she could have used the intensive hand-holding and education when she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age of 13.
"My doctor was really nice, but knew nothing about diabetes," says Houk, 46. "The reason I do this is, I wasn't given the opportunity to make those healthy choices or given the tools to do that."
She and another nurse started the Diabetes Community Center seven years ago, then converted it to a nonprofit four years ago because it was a better fit for what they were trying to do.
"As our economy declined, we saw a lot more people struggling to get their medications and education," she says. "We saw a lot of people flailing for knowing what to do with their diabetes, and how to get help without insurance. I'm kind of a diabetes safety net, filling a gap that people are falling into."
About 50 percent of her patients are uninsured or underinsured, but it wouldn't matter if they had the best coverage in the country. The center, with a relatively minuscule annual budget of $35,000, doesn't contract with insurance companies. Instead, patients are charged $20 for a one-hour consultation and $10 for group classes, with the idea that a nominal charge will foster buy-in.
"I think it's very reasonable, because you get a lot out of it, and I don't mind paying for something that's good - and she's excellent," Evans says.
The center carries emergency diabetic supplies and has shelves packed with education materials, but the one-on-one sessions are where Houk digs deep with patients to educate them on food and nutrition (and myths about sugar consumption), exercise and activity, stress management and medications and monitoring.
"What I like is, I have time to sit down for an hour with them and figure things out," Houk says. "They don't get that in a doctor's office."