Health & Education

New test targets 'walking diabetics' in Tribe

08.12.2011 Dean Rhodes Health & Wellness, Events

A Beaverton-based laboratory, DiabetOmics, is improving the way diabetics can check the markers of their disease.

It used to be that drawing a drop of blood was only good for a momentary blood sugar level, but DiabetOmics now learns a whole slew of medical and wellness information from one little drop of blood.

The screenings read momentary and long-term blood sugar levels, but also provide information on overall kidney, pancreas, heart and liver functions in a convenient, easy-to-read report that can be shared with a primary care physician.

The reports also make suggestions for helpful lifestyle changes.

A screening at Spirit Mountain Casino and among Tribal government employees sold Mark Johnston, Tribal Health Services executive director, on the company.

"We were very impressed with the results," he said during a recent interview in his Health Clinic office. "We found, for example, extremely high cholesterol" among some of those tested, and for others, the test let them know for the first time that they had diabetes.

"They were walking diabetics," said Johnston. "The sooner you catch somebody with the disease, the more likely you are to ward it off. It's one of those diseases that you can ward off with the right lifestyle.

"It caught people that hadn't shown any complications. Usually, it's after complications that we go to the doctor."

With diabetes, the earlier it is discovered, the better the opportunity to turn things around.

"Why can't we be doing this for our membership?" Johnston wondered. "This is a tool for wellness before complications set in. Hopefully, once you know, you will make the lifestyle changes that will stop the progression. It's all about progression. That's what kills people."

With the screenings, Johnston said, "We hope to help people before their only options are medication or surgery."

Work with DiabetOmics has been growing at the Tribe for more than a year. In February, screenings at the casino and the Tribal Governance Center reached more than 300 employees. To date, more than 500 have used it.

"It's a good number," said Tribal Elder and Community Health Manager Bonnie Mercier, "because it is all volunteer."

"We'd like to get 100 percent of members and employees," said Johnston. "It's a very inexpensive test for us and, in the long run, we'll save money on the health plan."

Members of a committee, including Johnston and Mercier, are Tribal member Tresa Mercier, Clinic Business Office supervisor; Tribal Elder Gladys Hobbs; Public Affairs Director Siobhan Taylor; Allyson Lecatsas, Clinic Administrative officer; and leaders from DiabetOmics. They have been promoting the screening to Tribal members and employees.

At the Marcellus Norwest Memorial Veterans Powwow, for example, Dr. Srinivasa Nagalla, company chief executive officer, provided information and offered screenings with Bonnie Mercier. They will be back again for the Contest Powwow on Saturday, Aug. 20. They also have been at Elders' activities and Memorial Day events.

Nagalla also is a staff physician at Oregon Health and Science University, making this program "a unique partnership" among Tribe, OHSU and DiabetOmics, Johnston said.

In the next step of the program, Community Health will distribute kits for home testing to Tribal members throughout the Tribe's six-county service area.

"The next step is getting kits out to everybody," Mercier said, "and getting case management for those who need it."

Tribal Elders, members and employees pay nothing out-of-pocket for the DiabetOmics screenings.

For information, look for Bonnie Mercier at the next powwow or other Tribal events, or contact her at 503-879-2016.