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Citizen Potawatomi Nation diabetes program helps people manage the disease with peer support

Garett Fisbeck
Citizen Potawatomi Nation
Katherine Brown, diabetes program coordinator, assists Brandon Cully during a Continuous Glucose Monitoring class at FireLake Wellness Center, Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month and according to the CDC, Oklahoma ranks fifth in the nation for deaths due to the disease. One tribal nation here in Oklahoma is helping patients with the condition.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation created a program called BEAD, which stands for Building Education about Diabetes. It's a weekly group class, offering participants the chance to build relationships with others suffering from diabetes. They can share stories and recipes, and learn how to advocate for themselves during regular health checkups.

Katherine Brown, the tribal nation's diabetes program coordinator, said the program offers a more holistic approach to treating the disease.

"I can talk to patients until I'm blue in the face about what they should do or what's important, but they learn the most from each other," said Brown about the power of a group class like BEAD. "So I really see my role as facilitating these conversations and maybe addressing misconceptions, but it's really the community basis, letting them tell their story, how the disease has impacted them, what changes they're making."

Brown said the new program allows for participants to build more lasting relationships because they're attending on a weekly basis. They trade recipes and talk about some of the struggles they've had managing the disease.

Native people are twice as likely to contract the disease than their non-Native peers. Last summer, Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act, which caps the cost of insulin at $35 per month.

Affordability of diabetes medication is a topic of national conversation because of the new law. Certain medications for diabetic patients can skyrocket to hundreds of dollars every month, making Indian Health Service the only way people can afford the medications because it is covered.

"If we can decrease long term complications, which have the biggest cost impact on our health care system, we can better manage our blood sugar, we can make real time decisions and treatment changes, then we're not wasting all this extra medication," said Brown.

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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