At a time when diabetics are more at risk of getting seriously ill due to the prevalence of COVID-19 in the United States, Waterloo’s upcoming Focus on Diabetes event comes at an opportune time for Iowans to receive free health screenings and education about the disease.
This week, Mayor Quentin Hart rewarded the work done by Focus on Diabetes by issuing a proclamation announcing Sept. 7-12 is Focus on Diabetes Week.
The week will culminate 11 a.m. Saturday with the Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes event at the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Participants can get free screenings for diabetes, foot exams, blood pressure checks, education materials and free supplies.
Focus on Diabetes, a nonprofit, was founded by Bridget Saffold, a registered nurse who has been working in health care for 20 years. This is the sixth year they’ve hosted the event.
In the middle of a pandemic, the event — and being screened for diabetes — is crucial, Saffold said. Diabetes suppresses the immune system, which makes it harder for the body to fight an infection and heal, thus increasing the risk of complications or death if infected with COVID-19.
“We’re forever hearing in the news how the African American community, especially, is affected by COVID,” said Saffold. ”We know that the African American or minority communities are the highest affected by diabetes. We know that these comorbidities, like diabetes and other health issues, push you at a higher rate of being affected negatively by COVID. So I think it’s even more important to be screened and know where you are. If you know where you are, you can react before something is bad. Especially through this pandemic.”
Saffold says she is seeing a surge in COVID-19 cases, so she feels that this program is an essential service.
“Before, you can associate it with Tyson,” she said. “Right now, that’s not really the case. This a true community spread. There’s a lot of sick people. Depending on how sick you are depends on if you end up in the hospital or not.”
In past years, Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes included seminars presented by local doctors, along with participation by pharmaceutical companies and local programs and resources.
This year, since they don’t want the room packed with people sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, they’ve had to cut back on some things.
But Saffold stresses it will be just as educational, it will just be done differently.
“We’re doing screenings,” Saffold said. “But we’re going to rely on those people doing the screenings to spend the time to do some education. Say they’re going to do A1C, which is a blood screening that can diagnose or tell you where you are in your disease. It takes about five minutes to result. So in that five minutes, while you’re sitting there with that nurse, they can spend that time educating you.”
Nurses will also be on hand to do blood pressure checks and diabetic supplies will be given away.
To make the event safe for attendees, it will be held in a much larger room than usual so there will be more space between screening areas and more space between chairs for people waiting to get from one area to the next.
Saffold’s goal for the event is to bridge some of the gaps she sees in health care. She wants people who are under-insured or uninsured to get free screenings and be connected to services they may not know about.
“I’ve seen patients who feel like they’re getting care at the physicians office but they’re not participating in that care,” she said.
Saffold believes they’re not participating because they don’t have knowledge about their condition before seeing their provider. According to Saffold, Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes educates diabetics so they won’t just accept their diagnosis, but will advocate for themselves for treatment that works.
In addition to Cedar Valley Focus on Diabetes, the organization hosts other events.
“We’re constantly thinking ‘How can we help? How can we serve the community? So when this COVID thing came up, we came up with a program — we called it COVID-19 Assist program.”
In the early stages of the pandemic, as doctors’ offices were closing or moving to telemedicine and people were afraid to go outside or go to pharmacies to get supplies, Safford wanted to make sure diabetics had what they needed. The organization was able to provide diabetics with 200 free testing kits and other supplies, some of which were hard to come by.
“People were hoarding a lot of the important things. The hand sanitizer, the alcohol and things like that, and those things are really important for diabetics. They need the alcohol swabs to clean their fingers, clean the sites for their insulin and stuff because they’re more at risk of infections.”
So, Focus on Diabetes gave away testing supplies, alcohol swabs, hand sanitizer, and face masks, plus a few things for comfort — extra little things like tea and cough drops — so people could try to stay home more.
They also delivered items to people’s doorsteps.
They hosted a Drive By Grab-and-Go, where they stood outside and people drove up and were handed bags through the car windows.
Additionally, they host quarterly events, such as Eat Out, Eat Healthy where they partnered with several restaurants that let community members sample healthy foods from their menu to show them it’s possible to eat healthy at the restaurant.
Focus on Diabetes was born from Saffold’s personal experiences. Her father, who was very important to her, was a long time diabetic. He passed away two years ago from secondary problems stemming from his diabetes.
When she started out, her father, who was an avid community organizer and active in community service, inspired her to help others. He told her it was important that she use her nursing background to uplift the community and to help others.”
Focus on Diabetes does just that.
But Saffold, who is pursuing a masters degree in public service, wants to do even more. She wants to become a nurse practitioner and shift her focus to community service, plus grow Focus on Diabetes, which currently operates with little funding and 100% volunteers.
“I do this because I know there’s a need,” said Saffold, who really wants people to understand diabetes and how to deal with it. Referring to Saturday s event, she added: “I wish people would just come and take what we are giving.”
Visit Diversity Today Media for information on Focus on Diabetes events.
To join the email list, ask questions, or make a donation, email FocusOnDiabetes@gmail.com
By Rachelle Chase
Iowa Starting Line is an independently-owned progressive news outlet devoted to providing unique, insightful coverage on Iowa news and politics. We need reader support to continue operating — please donate here. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for more coverage.