Margarita Jimenez could not even lift her left arm above her shoulder from the stiffness and pain she has experienced for more than four years. For the 64-year-old from Mexico who calls Metropolitan Hospital her medical home, the idea of attending regular exercise classes seem completely out of her cultural lifestyle.
But with encouragement from an HHC's WeCOACH program peer coach, Jimenez is one of nearly 100 HHC diabetic patients over the age of 60 who have enrolled in the program to attend fitness classes at local senior centers and are enjoying the benefits of increased physical activity and socialization.
"I feel like I'm 50 years old," Jimenez said before the HHC Strategic Planning Committee of the Board reviewing the status of the program. "I did not think programs like these were for me. I am so grateful and I hope other seniors can benefit like I have."
The WeCOACH program – Community Older Adults Care about their Health – is an evidence-based initiative designed to address chronic conditions among seniors from communities of color by enrolling them in a six week fitness program. Trained peer coaches actively recruit patients from six HHC hospitals who have an A1c (blood sugar) level of 8.5 or above, which is considered uncontrolled. Patients are enrolled in a series of exercise classes and other activities hosted by senior centers run by the New York City Department for the Aging.
"We are providing a link between healthcare providers and the community to assist at-risk senior to lift off the couch and proactively engage in their health," says Socrates Aguayo, Asst. Director of Corporate Planning Services. "We have created a culturally-appropriate and sensitive model that is responsive to the needs of HHC's client population."
WeCOACH has been designed to empower seniors, reduce their isolation by encouraging group socialization, and encourage community building and support. But the program, which began in December of 2008, also aims to help seniors reach a healthy blood sugar level and reduce their need for future hospitalization and complications from their disease.
"I meet other people from my country who have the same condition I have," says Eva Mitchell, a WeCOACH participant at Jacobi Medical Center and native of Jamaica. "We are now a group of friends that get together even when there are no scheduled activities. We go for walks and keep track of how many steps we take."