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Published on May 01, 2011

Center for Diabetes Provides Key Educational Role for Those with Diabetes 

When 59-year-old Michael Guzzardi became diabetic as a result of surgery, he was lost. “It was a completely new topic for me. I knew nothing about diabetes,” he says.   

Guzzardi was referred to the Center for Diabetes at Springfield Hospital by Crozer-Keystone Village, Crozer-Keystone’s resource and referral service for seniors. He learned more about diabetes by taking the Center’s classes about food and nutrition management; how insulin works; and what to do on sick days, when the body is prone to higher blood sugars.   

“The classes gave me the basic knowledge and principles of what diabetes is, how it works, how insulin works, and how to manage my blood sugars. And the staff is very nice, helpful, kind and very user-friendly. They talk in a language I can understand,” Guzzardi says.  

Guzzardi now feels confident about managing manage his diabetes, but realizes that changes in weight, exercise habits, or even eating restaurant food can upset his insulin balance. He still regularly consults with Center staff, as well as participates in a monthly support group.

The Crozer-Keystone Health System has operated the Center for Diabetes for 25 years.  Certified by the American Diabetes Association (ADA), services are offered at three Delaware County sites: Springfield Hospital, Community Hospital in Chester and the Crozer Medical Plaza at Brinton Lake in Glen Mills.

“It is important for a patient to go to an ADA-certified program because we have to maintain high standards and strict guidelines,” says the Center’s director, Mary Jane McDevitt. “In addition, our educators are all certified diabetic educators, a process that requires that they participate in continuing education classes and be reevaluated every five years.”

The Center’s certification must be renewed every four years. 

“Being ADA-certified means that the program and materials used meet national standards,” says Ruth Ann Fitzpatrick, M.D., a Crozer-Keystone endocrinologist and the medical director of the Center. “It is essential for the diabetic patient to have the kind of knowledge and skills necessary to take care of themselves on a daily basis. There is evidence that education improves clinical outcomes and quality of life.”

Rex Kessler, M.D., chief of the Section of Endocrinology at Taylor Hospital, says that the most important things he tells his diabetic patients are: “Diet and exercise. They are the cornerstones of treatment.” 

And they start with good education. The Center provides a comprehensive diabetes program that includes individualized patient assessment. This means that patients are educated about what they need to know about the state of their own diabetes, what foods to eat and which to avoid, the benefits of physical activity, any medications they’re prescribed, how to monitor their blood sugar levels, and treatment options for any complications.

The strengths of the Center for Diabetes are that it is “comprehensive, integrated, and collaborative,” Kessler says. “This includes the ability to provide insulin pump education, both at the basic and advanced level, which sets it apart from other centers,” he adds.

Insulin pump education is time-consuming and requires the type of skilled staff available at the Center. “What is important is that the diabetes educators there are able to spend time and work one-on-one with complicated diabetes patients,” says Lubna Zuberi, M.D., chief of the Division of Endocrinology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center.

Because diabetes affects many systems in the body, it is important to take a holistic approach. The Center for Diabetes is staffed by an interdisciplinary team including registered nurses, a nutritionist, pharmacist and exercise physiologist, each certified in diabetes education. Serious problems can develop if diabetes is ignored, including: diabetic retinopathy which damages eyesight; peripheral neuropathy, or nerve damage; kidney disease; heart disease and increased risk of strokes which are examples of cardiovascular changes that can occur; and poor wound healing.

“Learning how to care for one’s diabetes through careful monitoring, proper nutrition, and exercise is crucial in improving patient outcomes,” McDevitt says. 

“If you do not care for your diabetes early, your quality of life will suffer later. Diabetes starts asymptomatic and we can’t predict which target organ will get hit later, but whatever that first event is, it is going to severely impact your life,” Kessler says.

Fitzpatrick says that diabetes education has always been important to her. Decades ago, before there was a formal center, she organized volunteer nurses to educate patients while they were in the hospital.

“Doctors simply don’t have the time necessary to provide all the information needed during an office visit.  All of our staff are excellent educators and they really care about the patients,” Fitzpatrick says.

The Center offers programs and a schedule to meet everyone’s needs. Services include basic education, intensive management, gestational diabetes classes, pre-diabetes classes, as well as insulin pump training. Services are offered during the mornings for older people who may not want to go out at night and in the evenings for those who work during the day.

Weight gain, particularly around the middle, is one of the major risk factors for diabetes.

“Two thirds of Americans are overweight or obese and therefore, at risk for diabetes,” says Kessler. He points out that everyone needs to pay attention to weight gain.

Along with monitoring blood sugar levels, the key to treating diabetes is proper nutrition and exercise. Reading food labels, knowing which foods will cause spikes in glucose, and taking the time to get exercise are all part of managing diabetes. 

Regular medical visits with your primary care doctor, as well as specialists such as a cardiologist, ophthalmologist, endocrinologist, nephrologist, podiatrist, or dentist are all important parts of a comprehensive diabetes management program. 

It is estimated that 25.8 million adults and children have diabetes – and only 18.8 million have had it diagnosed.  No one wants to hear that he or she has diabetes.  But with proper education and lifestyle changes, this is a disease that can be managed. 

To learn more about the Center for Diabetes, call (610) 328-8920 or visit http://diabetes.crozer.org.

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