Nevada Tribes Getting $4.2 Million To Combat Diabetes Epidemic

Feb 9, 2016

Credit Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center

The federal government is awarding more than $2.4 million in grants to Nevada tribes for health. As Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick reports, much of that money will go toward helping the diabetes epidemic here in Washoe County.

Every Thursday night, Certified Personal Trainer Rick Pearson leads a group of kids and parents from the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony through a weekly boot camp.

The session is designed to burn calories and build strength. But Pearson says it’s about more than getting people to exercise.

“Being able to take this information they learned here and utilize it in everyday life,” Pearson says. “And they can do this when they’re adults.”

Pearson used to work in commercial gyms, training people who didn’t necessarily need it, and turning down people who did. That’s part of the reason why he came to the Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center.

“Here I don’t have to turn anyone away,” he says. “This is something that’s available to them for free. But when I came here I realized that I’m dealing with a population who needs a better understanding of fitness.”

The center treats over 4,500 patients within the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony. Five hundred eighty of those patients, or just below 13 percent, have diabetes. And a third of the children, kids between 5-18 years old, are clinically obese.

Stacy Briscoe is the Diabetes Program Manager at the center. She says one of their biggest challenges is preventing diabetes to begin with.

“You know you’re trying to put out all of these fires, and ultimately it’s not about trying to put the fire out. It’s catching it before it starts.”

Diabetes affects all age groups in the community. In addition to childhood obesity, Briscoe says that A1C numbers, which measure average blood sugar, are going up in adults.

“If that were to continue, there will likely be a very large need for things like dialysis and amputation support,” she says. “So, is that any greater than the pediatric community that is being raised by those very people? It’s about trying to model those good behaviors so it doesn’t progress into that.”

To help combat this health epidemic, Senator Harry Reid’s office announced that six tribes across Nevada are receiving more than $2 million in federal grants. The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony gets more than $800,000.

This grant Briscoe says, will help fund salaries and existing programs at the center, like a 12-week diabetes class that includes nutrition counseling, disease management and yes, physical training.

Lawana Martinez works at the center and is a graduate of this class.

“I’ve had diabetes since 2002, I think it was,” Martinez says. “Diabetes affects everything from the head to your toes and in between.”

She says the program works.

“The bottom line is trying to prevent us from getting full-blown diabetes. But if we do, then they teach us how we can deal with it and teach us how to eat properly, how to take care of ourselves properly. And I feel very blessed, because it’s helped me from getting worse.”

Briscoe says the federal grant also gives her a chance to offer more programs for people in the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

“We’re talking about adding the swim program, so increasing activity opportunity for diabetic patients as well as elders," she says. "We’re also going to ideally be returning the acupuncture program, and that was a really popular program.”

Briscoe says that access remains a major obstacle, because the population the center serves extends beyond Reno. But if people can make it in, she says they’ll get the help they need—but they’ll still need to put in the work.