County looks to help people manage chronic disease

aibarra@mercedsunstar.comJune 20, 2014 

Chronic diseases are among the most common and costly of all health problems. To help lower the health risks associated with this epidemic, Merced County health officials are taking action by implementing a new chronic disease self-management program in Los Banos.

The “Healthier Living” workshop series, created by Stanford University, is designed to help people with chronic disease learn techniques to better manage their conditions.

Marie Pickney, a county health education specialist, said anyone who can identify with suffering from a chronic illness such as depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes and lung disease can enroll in this workshop series.

Classes will take place from 9:30 a.m to noon, every Tuesday for six weeks beginning next week. They will be held at Sutter Memorial Hospital, Los Banos health education room, 600 W. I St.

The 21/2-hour workshops will consist of discussions and lectures covering subjects that can be of great benefit to people dealing with a chronic disease, Pickney said. Topics discussed will include: managing weight, developing healthier eating habits, increasing exercise activity, improving breathing patterns and getting better sleep.

The classes are set to be as interactive as possible. The goal of the instructors is to provide the necessary guidance for patients to learn the basics of disease management, but in due course, the classes will focus on peer-to-peer learning.

Pickney said the classes are also open to caregivers and family members of chronic disease patients.

“I was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure at one point,” Pickney said, “and I’ve learned that it is difficult to communicate effectively with someone who has never had to go through this because they simply don’t understand what it’s like. That’s why it’s important that family and friends get involved also.”

The “Healthier Living” program has been implemented and proven successful in other areas such as Merced and Winton, but this is the first time it is put into action in Los Banos.

Isabela Montero, a Winton resident, recently completed a similar training program in her hometown. She decided to enroll in the six-week workshop series after learning that her 13-year-old son was dealing with depression.

“As a mother, it is extremely hard to have to see your child go through something like this, and you want to help, but sometimes you’re not sure how,” Montero said. “My son was going to counseling, but I needed more information on how to help him, so I decided to enroll in the training, and I’m glad I did.”

Montero said she was given input on how to help lift her son’s emotional state. She also learned about ways to encourage her son to engage in everyday activities that he many times did not want to do, such as eating, sleeping and going to school.

“These classes don’t help you find a cure, but they teach you how to live with and better manage a chronic disease, and for that I am thankful,” Montero said.

Another participant, Veronica Rodriguez, completed the ‘Healthier Living’ program earlier this year. She accompanied her diabetic mother to the workshops held at the Lifeline Community Center in Winton.

“My mom was always in and out of the hospital, but hasn’t been back (to the hospital) at all since we went to these classes, ” Rodriguez said. “I think what helped the most were the nutrition classes. Once we learned what foods she should be eating and which ones she should stay away from, we noticed a big difference.”

The program is free of charge and workshops are offered in both English and Spanish. Those interested in receiving more information can call (209) 381-1223.

Sun-Star staff writer Ana B. Ibarra can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or

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