Jesse Torres is struggling to figure out which path to take. Diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, the Viet Nam veteran has access to two medical providers offering different treatments. Torres is also dealing with the challenges of hypertension (high blood pressure) and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), an anxiety disorder suffered by many war veterans and other trauma victims.
“I have the double whammy of a family history of diabetes and two tours in Viet Nam where I was sprayed with Agent Orange,” Torres said.
He was one of about 15 people who came to the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center, 1711 S. 11th St., recently to hear a presentation on controlling diabetes. The speaker, Frank Atherton, is a Native American diabetes patient who is managing his disease successfully.
Torres grew up in the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, just west of Green Bay. For the past three years he has seen a doctor at the Oneida Community Health Center. But now, having recently moved back to southeast Wisconsin, he is considering changing to the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center in Milwaukee for his primary care.
“I came to (to the presentation) to educate myself and see if I could find any more options as far as dealing with the diabetes. I’m caught between. It’s hard because I have to make up my mind as to which to make my primary,” Torres said.
“Tonight I learned a couple of methods for portion control,” Torres said.
Shendola Duke, the community health project assistant and technical coordinator at the Ignace center, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes right after she graduated from high school. She came to hear the speaker, she said, “because it’s nice to get information and it’s nice to have a support system.” She pointed out that other staff members also struggle with diabetes.
A tribal member of the Oneida Nation, Duke said both of her grandmothers have diabetes and her mother is borderline diabetic. “She’s trying to figure out how to control it and keep it from turning into full-blown diabetes,” Duke said.
Only a few of the audience members raised their hands when the speaker asked who has diabetes. One was Patsy Delgado, who said she comes to all of the diabetes programs at the center. She has been participating in the center’s WOLFE group for 10 years. The WOLFE group (Work Out, Low Fat for Elders) is a weekly wellness program for American Indian elders. It is a collaboration between the health center and the Indian Council of the Elderly.
Winifred Nahwauquah, of the Menominee tribe said she doesn’t have diabetes, but she came in support of others, including her brothers, who do. “I’m glad I stayed,” she said, adding that she has some eating habits she wants to improve.
The center’s medical clinic offers health checks, a diabetes program, lab tests, immunizations, family planning services, obstetrics and gynecology services, pre- and post-natal care, podiatry, specialty referrals, nutritional counseling, prescriptions, transportation and health insurance assistance. The center currently has four Affordable Care Act navigators.
The All Nations Wellness Center, on the second floor of Ignace Indian Health Center, offers mental health counseling, social services, Talking Circles, spiritual counseling, alcohol and other drug abuse programs and support, drumming, cultural educational activities and materials, case management and material assistance.
The center’s mission is “to improve the health, peace, and welfare of Milwaukee’s urban Indian community” but it accepts people of all tribes, races and ethnicities, according to Desiree Schocko, R.N. and data entry coordinator. It is partially funded by the Federally Qualified Health Care Look-Alike program, which provides resources to centers that meet the requirements but don’t receive grants from the federal Health Services and Resource Administration.
Atherton emphasized the importance of taking control for people with diabetes. “The doctor can’t control your lifestyle choices. You have to do it yourself,” he said. Both Torres and Duke admitted that this is their biggest challenge.
“My biggest barrier is me. I have all the resources; (the challenge) is just coming out of denial,” Duke said.