My Life, My Health Program Offers Unique Approach to Chronic Disease Management
Pictured are recent program graduates and co-facilitators (back row, L-R): co-facilitator Susan Young, John Watty, Zelma Joseph, Beverly Matthews, Veronica Weathers, Margaret Lowe, co-facilitator Noemia Monteiro-Do Canto, (front row, L-R) Barbara Gray, Beatrice JohnLewis, and Dixie Bufford.
Patients with chronic conditions now have an opportunity to engage in a new care model. With support from the Boston Public Health Commission and the Prevention and Wellness Trust Fund through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the health center has increased our care to help patients better manage hypertension, elder falls, and pediatric asthma.
My Life, My Health (MLMH) offers a 6-week series of workshops designed to educate participants on hypertension management, while teaching them techniques to feel more empowered in effectively advocating for their own care. Featuring an evidence-based curriculum developed by Dr. Kate Lorig and Stanford University’s Patient Education Research Center, MLMH addresses topics ranging from the importance of healthy eating and exercise to understanding how medications and comorbidities can be reduced through simple lifestyle changes. Participants actively choose and monitor their own goals, tracking their progress both individually and as a part of an interactive group setting where the importance of self-management is regularly highlighted.
With a robust array of topics to cover in a short amount of time, a key component of the MLMH model is its use of trained peer leaders as facilitators. Peer leaders provide support and guidance around strategies for achieving optimum health, helping to dissect the dense curriculum while advocating for patients to come up with action plans that best suit their own needs. When it came time to launch the pilot intervention, Bowdoin Community Health Workers Noemia Monteiro-Do Canto and Susan Young were clear choices to take the lead.
“I think both Noemia and Susan have a passion for their work, an energy and a relatability that is really wonderful,” supervisor Mary Kate Little, says. “I knew that they would be able to motivate and inspire patients as well as offer some of their own lived experience which is part of the My Life, My Health model”. Monteiro-Do Canto and Young were equally excited for the challenge to serve in these new roles, and only a few weeks into the program discovered just how much of an impact this unique type of model could have on patients.
“We thought that the biggest issue plaguing patients was going to be non-compliance with medications”, Monteiro-Do Canto explains. “But we quickly saw that many people were simply not aware of how their general lifestyle choices can impact their health. Susan and I get to educate them on everything from how to read food labels to how to improve their sleep habits and reduce their stress levels. All of these things contribute to helping them manage their overall health, and this program allows us to address all of these things on a weekly basis”.
“We get to connect with patients in a very real way”, Young continues. “We take specific input from providers and strategies from the curriculum to help patients to develop their own action plans, but we also share personal stories about how we have worked to improve our own health. Patients see this program as an open forum where they can share struggles and successes in a place that is really safe and supportive.”
“In this program, people encourage each other,” Monteiro-Do Canto agrees. “They exchange phone numbers and they become close outside of the health center. They realize they aren’t alone in their struggles because they see their friends making changes and feel like they can do the same.”
And the changes have been notable. One participant proudly announces that she is now no longer on medication for hypertension-a far cry from her first week in the program when she was unable to even verbalize that she suffered from the condition, let alone admit that it was out of control. Another participant happily chuckles at his own new found love of spending time in the supermarket, finding unexpected satisfaction in his ability to compare food labels.
But regardless of the magnitude of success, program graduates seem to feel more confident in being able to positively impact their own health. And this is only the beginning. With two groups, boasting 14 total graduates, Monteiro-Do Canto and Young are ready for their third group.