Bo Kopynec, M.D.
ROCKINGHAM – As Bo Kopynec, M.D., was reviewing his appointments calendar for a recent day at FirstHealth Family Medicine in Ellerbe, he noted 12 patients with a diagnosis of diabetes.
“This was a fairly typical day,” he says.
Dr. Kopynec is also a physician with the Wellness Center at the Perdue Farms plant in Rockingham, where the FirstHealth Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center offers intensive diabetes education classes for employees.
Perdue, one of the few companies in the U.S. to offer on-site primary care at its major facilities, emphasizes detection and management of health risks through its free employee wellness program or HIP (Health Improvement Program). The HIP health assessment includes diabetes screening.
“Each of our Wellness Centers has a HIP specialist who works one-on-one with each associate to create a personalized plan of health improvement,” says HIP manager Nicole Borque. “When an associate is diagnosed with diabetes, the HIP specialist provides a free glucometer and instructions on how to test blood sugar and discusses smart food choices as well as signs and symptoms to watch out for.”
After observing an opportunity to complement Perdue’s efforts with more in-depth diabetes education, Dr. Kopynec approached the FirstHealth program about the possibility of offering on-site classes at the Rockingham location. The program is going “extremely well,” he says, with positive results for all involved.
“I have heard from both management and employees,” he says. “They feel that this service is very likely to lead to improvements in the health of Perdue associates who have diabetes.”
Wellness Center supervisor Ann Williamson, R.N., agrees. “Because diabetes requires lifestyle changes to control, a certified diabetes education can take our education efforts one step further,” she says. “We are extremely grateful for our partnership with Dr. Kopynec, and proud to be able to offer intensive diabetes education classes for our associates as an extension of our associate wellness programs.”
As the nation observes November as National Diabetes Awareness Month, particular attention is being paid to a disease that affects millions of Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 26 million Americans are now living with diabetes and another 79 million have pre-diabetes (blood glucose levels that are higher than normal but not yet high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes).
Diabetes is a serious problem throughout the 15-county FirstHealth of the Carolinas service area, which has some of the highest diabetes and diabetes mortality rates in North Carolina. FirstHealth’s diabetes education program is the only one within a 75-mile radius of the organization’s flagship hospital in Pinehurst, according to program director Melissa Herman, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator.
“Finding quality education with a certified diabetes educator or through an accredited program is getting harder and harder to find,” she says.
When programs do exist, they are often difficult for the people who need them – like the Perdue employees – to reach, hence the importance of the outreach availability of the FirstHealth service.
“There are a significant number of Perdue associates with diabetes who, for a variety of reasons, were having a difficult time accessing the usual sources of diabetes education that we generally try and refer folks to,” Dr. Kopynec says. “I felt that reaching out to them by arranging a diabetes education program that would be more convenient to access would be of some benefit.”
FirstHealth’s Perdue program includes one-on-one counseling as well as group classes on subjects that range from portion control and weight management to basic physiology and diabetes science. Participants benefit from time with both a nurse and a dietitian and, when needed, follow-up sessions.
“All the Perdue employees knew that their diabetes diagnosis posed a significant risk to them,” says Herman, who calls diabetes “the most significant health threat of our time.”
“They have responded so positively, making incredible strides in a short period of time,” she says. “They tell us weekly how much they appreciate even the smallest pieces of advice and pay us the best compliment we could ever ask for by implementing changes throughout their own households and paying it forward by sharing their knowledge with friends and family.”
Diabetes educators with the FirstHealth Diabetes & Nutrition Education Center are interested in providing workplace diabetes education programs for businesses and industries throughout the FirstHealth service area. For more information about the service, call (800) 364-0499 toll-free.