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Vivir una Vida Plena (Living a Fulfilling Life) was created by national nonprofit MHP Salud, with support from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, along the U.S./Mexico border, chronic kidney disease (CKD) has had a great impact on the lives of community members. Vivir una Vida Plena is a program that supports and empowers individuals at risk for or recently diagnosed with CKD to adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
Vivir una Vida Plena is based on the innovative Community Health Worker model. This program uses trusted community members to conduct outreach, provide health education and connect individuals to helpful resources. Community Health Workers find local residents who may be at risk for CKD and refer them to MHP Salud’s partner clinic, Nuestra Clinica del Valle, where participants receive a free primary care appointment. They are also administered a blood screening which looks at blood sugar, cholesterol, and other markers that may indicate risk or diagnosis of CKD. Based on the results of their blood test, some participants are also offered a free 90 day follow-up appointment at the clinic. The purpose of this appointment is to better help specific participants track their progress throughout the entire length of the program. As of November 2018, 108 individuals have been referred to Nuestra Clinica de Valle, and of those, 47 have qualified for a free follow-up appointment.
After visiting our partner clinic and having some blood work done, participants are then referred to MHP Salud’s local support group. Participants of this group engage in six weekly group sessions led by the Community Health Worker that provide peer support, education and skills-building exercises. Outside of class, participants also receive 12 weeks of one-on-one education and support from the Community Health Worker, so that the care they receive is tailored to their unique circumstances and goals. As of October, 114 individuals have been provided with these case management services. At the end of the 12-week session, the participants who qualified for a follow-up with Nuestra Clinica de Valle in their initial screening visit the clinic again so that they can track the impact the program has had on their health.
“Vivir Una Vida Plena takes such a unique approach to affect positive behavior change,” Program Director Onaney Hernandez said. “Where most programs focus on education, this program incorporates medical visits. This is powerful because for some of our participants, this is their first time seeing a doctor in years.”
Health Care Challenges in the Rio Grande Valley
Numerous challenges exist in the Rio Grande Valley that put people at a greater risk for developing chronic diseases, including CKD. Colonias, or unincorporated border communities, are common in the region. While people living in colonias live robust and fulfilling lives, the lack of services and infrastructure make accessing healthcare services, eating a healthy diet and exercising more difficult.
The region is also highly rural and lacks services that support healthy habits. Data shows that individuals living in these counties have significantly less access to exercise opportunities and healthy food compared to the rest of Texas. Because of these and other factors, approximately one in three people living in the area is obese, which can be a risk factor for developing CKD.
Further, these counties are primarily low-income, which additionally limits one’s ability to purchase healthy food, drive long distances and pay to see a healthcare provider, or purchase a gym membership. Even with the best intentions to improve healthy habits, the environment in the Rio Grande Valley can influence the everyday experience for people living there. These barriers ultimately create disparities surrounding chronic diseases such as CKD.
The Value of Vivir Una Vida Plena
Vivir Una Vida Plena addresses the common challenges that prevent people in this region from accessing health care and having healthy habits. Because the Rio Grande Valley is largely rural and low-income, providing services that are easy to access and afford is key. Community Health Workers conduct outreach and educate within the community by going door-to-door and providing information in common public spaces. Group educational classes are also held in convenient locations within the community, like libraries or community centers.
As trusted community members, Community Health Workers have a unique skillset that supports participants in their journey to better health by providing culturally appropriate support and education. They are fluent in both English and Spanish and have personal insight into the challenges and resources that exist in the Rio Grande Valley.
“Our Community Health Workers passion for helping their communities is reflected in their dedication to informing people about the program, assessing their needs and connecting them with other community resources and application assistance,” Hernandez said.
The impact of Vivir una Vida Plena has been positive. So far, MHP Salud has seen a significant increase in healthy behaviors that play an important role maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases like CKD. At the start of the program, participants exercised about one day per week. By the end, they almost doubled how much they exercised. They have also improved their diet by eating more fruits and vegetables.
Program highlights are described below:
As a comparison, according to one study, only 11 percent of Texas adults eat the daily recommended servings of fruit and 8 percent eat the daily recommended servings of vegetables. Participants have also improved the quality of food they consume by decreasing salt consumption, cutting back on sugary beverages like soda and juice, and lowering the amount of saturated fat in their diet. MHP Salud predicts that participants will see improved medical test results and a lowered rate of diabetes or prediabetes, reflecting these positive lifestyle changes.
About MHP Salud
MHP Salud is a national nonprofit that has empowered underserved Latino communities through Community Health Worker programs over the past 35 years. The organization provides training and consulting services to advance the Community Health Worker model as a culturally appropriate way to improve the health of communities nationwide. You can find more information about MHP Salud by visiting their website, or following them on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
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