Long Branch Healthy Enterprise Zone proposal focuses on diabetes prevention, education -- Gazette.Net


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Those struggling with diabetes in the Long Branch area of Silver Spring may finally get the help they need.

Montgomery County submitted a proposal to the state last week for Long Branch to be designated as a Health Enterprise Zone, which would facilitate a partnership among local hospitals and community organizations to focus on diabetes intervention and prevention, said Bruce Baker, the director for Takoma Park-based nonprofit Community Health and Empowerment through Education and Research.The proposal calls for an increase in the number of health promoters in the area and the expansion of intervention and education programs to help people diagnosed with diabetes learn how to control it.

“The real essence is to get the health care providers in the area working together with the community to address what has been identified as a serious health issue in the area, which is diabetes,” said Baker, who helped organize and write the proposal.

Health Enterprise Zones are an effort by the state to reduce health disparities and improve access to health care.

Baker said the plan would include the increase of health promoters, who would help community members in the underserved area navigate the health care system and put them in touch with the proper physicians they need to visit to receive care. The proposal calls for a grant of $1.3 million a year, totalling just more than $5 million in four years, Baker said. It would fund the education and intervention programs hosted and run by the partnered organizations.

When the enterprise zone opportunity arose, Baker said CHEER began to have conversations with the community and the decision to apply became a “pretty universal agreement” among stakeholders. A team of local hospitals — including Washington Adventist Hospital in Silver Spring and Holy Cross Hospital in Forest Glen — along with people from the faith community and nonprofit groups like Impact Silver Spring and Mary’s Center have chosen to participate.

County Health and Human Services Director Uma Ahluwalia said the county’s proposal is among 20 proposals competing for one of three or four projects. She said in order to qualify, the county had to show need and that this area was the only part of the county that fit the criteria, which Baker said takes into account life expectancy and the proportion of people on Medicaid.

According to the Health Needs Index — which takes into account socioeconomic factors including education, unemployment rates, family structure and cultural linguistic differences and measures them by ZIP code — the 20903 ZIP code in Silver Spring is a 4.2 on a 5-point scale of need, placing it in the highest need category. Baker said this is the only ZIP code in the county that is at this level.

Additionally, the 20912 ZIP code in Takoma Park has the highest diabetes rate in Montgomery County at 30.4 percent, Baker said. That number is 50 percent higher than the county median, and ZIP code 20903 in Silver Spring is also “well above the median,” he added. While he is unable to attribute the high percentages to a specific cause, Baker said the funding for the Health Enterprise Zone will go toward finding out.

The American Diabetes Association says there are several things people can do to reduce their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, the more common strain, including increasing physical activity levels, maintaining a healthy weight and a healthy diet. Among those at a higher risk for Type 2 are people 45 and older, people with a family history of diabetes and certain racial and ethnic groups, according to the ADA website.

“[There’s] such a diverse community in the neighborhood with significant health disparities,” Ahluwalia said. “If we were funded, it would be a tremendous opportunity for us to address those disparities.”

Maria Gomez, president and CEO for Mary’s Center — a federally-funded local service agency that promotes women’s health — said getting patients to the right doctor to be regularly checked is important. She said a lot of people in this concentrated area are using the hospitals “improperly” as primary care, which she said is a “waste of money for the insurance companies.”

“The big piece for us is that Montgomery County always gets the reputation of being such a rich county,” Gomez said. “But then there’s Long Branch and Langley Park that are just devastated because people have been pushed out of the District of Columbia, so there is a lot of poverty in that pocket ... that I think we kind of drive by and ignore the health disparities.”

Gomez said D.C. is undergoing a lot of development, which is pushing people out into the suburbs. Additionally, she said many families think the schools outside the District are better, and the access to jobs and a more affordable lifestyle are draws to living in the suburbs.

Outside of connecting people to primary care physicians, Gomez said this program will ensure people are educated about the signs and effects of diabetes.

“It doesn’t necessarily kill people, but there are so many illnesses that come out of [diabetes],” Gomez said.

Elizabeth McMeekin, the senior network manager for Impact Silver Spring — a nonprofit that works on community issues in Silver Spring, said that focusing on the health and well-being of the residents in their community is “an absolute win.”

“I’m very hopeful that, knowing that we’re up against stiff competition throughout the state, the reviewers will appreciate the uniqueness of this community because of its ethnic diversity and the high contributions that the people of this community can and want to make to the future of the county and the state,” she said. “I hope that they will appreciate that by giving [us] one of the health enterprise zone grants.”

krose@gazette.net