WESLACO, RGV – Texas A&M University System believes its Healthy South Texas 2025 initiative can reduce preventable diseases by 25 percent in South Texas by the year 2025 because of the success of a smaller project in Corpus Christi.

Starr Flores, director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center, spoke about the Corpus Christi project when she attended an event with visiting state legislators at the Texas A&M University-Kingsville Citrus Center in Weslaco.

The event at the Citrus Center, held in late January, was part of the Valley Legislative Tour hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.

“Currently in Corpus Christi we have a program that has been very successful in reaching out and helping families to control their diabetes. We have been able to significantly reduce hospitalization, reduce emergency room visits, as well as reduce diabetes complications, which include amputations, kidney failure, heart disease and blindness as well,” Flores told legislators.

Starr Flores
Starr Flores

Looking ahead to the Healthy South Texas pilot program, Flores said: “We will help to engage families, help them promote behavioral change, help reduce medical costs, and help them deal with diabetes. A lot of families do not know where to turn and this is a program that will help them.”

Flores said the Texas AgriLife Extension Service will be a “big partner” in the Healthy South Texas 2025 initiative because of its success in agriculture. “The focus is going to be based on the highest impact areas in the community, which is diabetes, asthma, and infectious disease.”

Interviewed after the meeting with legislators, Flores told the Rio Grande Guardian how the pilot project in Corpus Christi worked and why it was successful.

“We have registered dieticians, registered nurses that work with and monitor our patients and community health workers that work with and monitor the patients. We explain that it is all about making lifestyle changes, behavioral changes. We have been very successful with the project,” Flores said.

“Last year alone we saw over 2,000 patients that have diabetes. Many of these came with high ICs. They were at a level where there are a lot of complications that can occur, such as blindness, heart disease, amputations. But, if you are able to reach them early enough so they can control the diabetes you can prevent those complications. Many times when they go to the hospital it is because of these preventable complications.”

Another aspect of the work in Corpus Christi, Flores said, involves providing education to the entire family, not just the person suffering with diabetes. “Sometimes, someone might cook for the person with diabetes so we have to reach out to them also. It is really about educating the whole family,” Flores said.

“A lot of our patients are uninsured as well. They do not have any other resources. By having community health workers in our program we help them bridge the gap so they get the resources they need. We also help as a referral for them. Many people do not realize that there is assistance out there for them, whether it is education or other organizations in the area that can help them and that is one of the things we do that I think makes our program successful. It is really helping the patient holistically because there are so many barriers, such as transportation. We tell them where they can get help.”

Flores added: “It really is all about education. If you can educate an individual about their health they can make wise choices.”

Luisa Colin, a regional program leader with A&M’s AgriLife Extension Service, is looking forward to the roll out of Healthy South Texas 2025.

“We are hoping to bring in great educational programs into the Valley and the 26 counties. We are hoping to bring in a Master Wellness Volunteer program. We want to work with the people to help them take care of the preventable diseases. The ‘¡Sí, Yo Puedo Controlar Mí Diabetes!’ program is excellent,” Colin said.

¡Sí, Yo Puedo Controlar Mí Diabetes! is a 7-week diabetes self-management program offered by AgriLife for Spanish-speaking adults with type 2 Diabetes. Classes are offered once a week in community settings such as churches, libraries, and hospitals. Each session is for two hours. Sí, Yo Puedo is facilitated by two trained health professionals: a registered nurse and registered dietician.

“We also have the Better Living for Texans program. We are going to be working on gardens and physical activity, such as the walking trails. We are hoping we are going to get funded for Healthy South Texas 2015 but whether we do not, we are still going to be doing some of these programs because this is what we do anyway. We are here to serve our clients and help them live a healthier life,” Colin said.

Luisa Colin
Luisa Colin

Colin said one in ten of the nation’s food deserts can be found in the Rio Grande Valley counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Starr.

“We have so many food deserts. It is one of our biggest issues, it is of great concern. It is very hard for many colonia residents to get to a supermarket where they can purchase good fruit and vegetables. Because of that, that is affecting their health. They are not getting the proper care. Some of them cannot get to a doctor. It is the wrong food, sometimes, because they do not have the money, they will tend to go to the convenience store and purchase hot Cheetos, fattening, unhealthy foods. At that time they are thinking about the child and his or her needs and that is hunger. They do not have time and they do not have transportation, they do not have money to put gas in their car to drive a couple of miles. A supermarket may be ten miles away. They do not have the luxury to do that. That is why it is easier for them to walk to the corner convenience store and purchase hot Cheetos and nachos.”

Colin added: “I know so many colonias and colonia residents. The families want a better life, they want better for their kids. They just don’t know how to do it. Those that do often times do not have the means. It is hard. If we get funding (for Healthy South Texas 2015) it will have a big impact. It is going to be a lot of work, all within a two-year period, but it is going to be good work. I think we are going to help a lot of families and decrease the obesity rate. That is one of our main jobs.”