Tulalips take on diabetes with health fair

  • By Chris Winters Herald Writer
  • Thursday, March 3, 2016 8:11pm
  • Local News

TULALIP — In one corner of the atrium of the Karen I. Fryberg Tulalip Health Clinic, Tristan Klesick was raffling off a box of fresh produce.

It was his first visit to the clinic, the Stanwood farmer said.

Klesick Farms and other vendors were brought in for Diabetes Day, a twice-annual health fair held in the clinic to help tribal members get care for and educated about the disease.

Diabetes is an endemic problem in Indian Country, with a rate of incidence 2.3 times higher in native populations than in non-Hispanic white populations, according to data from the federal Indian Health Service.

For six hours Thursday, patients came in, got their blood pressure checked and blood drawn, talked with nurses and clinical educators.

The patients also got lunch, with diabetic-friendly recipes of smoked salmon, roasted squash and an improvised stir-fry lettuce wrap made with shrimp and geoduck that one of the Tulalip elders gave to the staff the night before.

It is hoped the patients went away more knowledgable than they did coming in, not just about diabetes but with related issues of kidney health, nutrition, diet and exercise.

“We’re seeing where other programs and services fit with the Tulalip vision,” said Jim Steinruck, the health administrator for the clinic.

Steinruck is also a clinic administrator for Providence Health and Services, which for the past year has been operating in a partnership with the Tulalip Tribes to introduce a variety of new programs to the community as well as make improvements.

For example, Steinruck said, in June the clinic is scheduled to migrate to the EPIC electronic medical records system used by the rest of the Providence group.

At the same time, he said, other Providence partners and specialists are being brought in to the clinic.

“We want them to see what we do here and see how well we do it,” he said.

One of those outside partners was the Puget Sound Kidney Center in Everett, which brought in a team of nurses, clinical educators and social workers.

Susen Biggs, a registered nurse and home care program manager, said the educational component of the visit was valuable.

“A lot of people really don’t know about kidney disease,” she said.

The disease tends to sneak up on people, Biggs said, and their only symptom is that they feel sick. In short order, they may find themselves on dialysis.

One patient that day, Frieda Eide, had her blood work done, but then stayed to volunteer her time to help out, taking raffle tickets and tying bundles of parsely, sage and thyme from the clinic’s garden.

Eide, who is from Alaska and is Tlingit and Inupiaq, isn’t diabetic but said the disease runs in her family.

“It’s always something I worry about because I do love sugar so much,” Eide said.

Eide said she was enjoying learning about improving her diet and nutrition. She admits eating healthy is difficult.

“Fresh vegetables are really hard to prepare for yourself, because I live alone,” she said.

It’s easier just to reach for something already prepared, she said, but she recently tried out one of the clinic’s sugar-free recipes for chicken that used blended herbs from the garden.

“It was like restaurant stuff I never get,” she said.

That’s one of the reasons Klesick was there representing his farm, which makes home deliveries of produce throughout Snohomish County.

It’s all about providing a source of healthy food to people who might otherwise not have access, or who only eat preservative-laden grocery store food, he said.

Roni Leahy, the diabetes program coordinator for the clinic, said the program emphasizes care and prevention. Education is a big part of the process.

That includes enrolling people in Wisdom Warriors, the clinic’s elder outreach program for diabetes care and in group classes focused on building healthy menus with traditional foods, including salmon and elk.

She said about 55 people came in for scheduled appointments Thursday. Perhaps another couple dozen were walk-in visitors.

One of them was Jim Dunham, an Alutiiq-Sugpiaq native from Kodiak Island, Alaska, who lives in Lynnwood.

Dunham said he’s had type 2 diabetes for 25 years and is dependent on insulin shots, but he also has benefited immensely from the classes and support groups at the clinic.

One problem with his disease is that even with a good diet and regular exercise — he comes to the clinic twice a week for a dedicated exercise session — his sugar can suddenly spike for no reason.

“It gets depressing,” Dunham said. “Having a group you can talk to and relate to is really helpful.”

“You find out you’re not alone,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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