Creating a community to manage diabetes

Photo of Robert AlbeeAfter Robert Albee was diagnosed with diabetes in 1995, he learned that managing his disease was easier with help. Soon after being diagnosed, he enrolled in a study that gave him 90 minutes a month to speak with a doctor. That’s a rare opportunity, Albee said.

Later, he was able to have intensive, focused training on healthful living and managing diabetes. He found that tracking his eating, exercise, blood sugar and blood pressure helped him to better manage his health. Being part of a community of people with diabetes was also helpful, he said.

Albee and his wife, Sharon, set about creating that community in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis. They used their own social security checks and pension funds to create A Partnership of Diabetics (A-POD) in 2009, to help people discuss and manage their diabetes. A-POD does not replace medical care; in fact, the group emphasizes that participants must work with their physicians and even helps link them to a physician. A-POD’s focus is on creating a supportive community among diabetics, with expert help from non-practicing and retired health-care professionals.

“This approach keeps us from becoming overwhelmed by the daily challenges that diabetes presents and offers an early warning system for more serious issues,” Albee said, adding that about 60% of the approximately 100 A-POD participants live alone.  “Without a peer group, it’s absolutely frustrating to manage a chronic disease. You have to create your own family. We’re dealing with our values, our relationships and our responsibilities.”

A-POD membership often starts with a monthly Phillips Community diabetes breakfast. Participants can then join weekly meet-ups, which last about 90 minutes. Meetings start with weight and blood pressure checks. Participants discuss the health diaries they keep. A-POD conducts A1c checks four times a year. Albee plans to expand services to include cholesterol testing, healthful cooking lessons and exercise, depending on future grants. The group also serves Somali women elders, providing education in Somali, and recently expanded to Spanish. 

Albee follows the latest information on diabetes management. He tracks how well clinics help patients achieve optimal diabetes care. He recognizes the value of measuring diabetes care for individuals and clinics alike, as well as regularly working with a physician to monitor diabetes.

 “Almost everybody who tracks (their health data) does better than people who don’t,” Albee said.

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