“Often, when I first meet patients, they can’t look me in the eye,” explains Elizabeth Leong, RD, CDE, founder and director of the Bay Area Diabetes and Wellness Center in Oakland, Calif. “Diabetes is controlling their lives, and they've lost all self-esteem. As we work together, I watch patients become empowered. They take ownership of their health—and their disease,” says Leong. “Then we see eye to eye.”
This is one of the many rewards that keep Leong going, even after a typical 12-hour day at the Center, which she opened in 2011 because her community had little access to customized diabetes education. Leong’s inspiration sprang from a nationwide increase in diabetes diagnoses, coupled with prevention and self-care skills as the new paradigm in treating chronic disease.
Today, the Center offers individualized medical nutrition therapy for diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and obesity. There are also outpatient group classes, which are accredited by the American Diabetes Association for meeting National Standards for Diabetes Self Management Education (DSME). “I have more than 100 doctors referring patients to me,” Leong says, “and we are contracted with Medicare and several private insurance companies that reimburse for medical nutrition therapy and DSME.” She hopes the Center will serve as a model for similar privately owned, free-standing education centers throughout the country.
“The average hospital stay today is 24 to 72 hours, which leaves no time for diet and wellness education,” Leong says. “There’s a tremendous need for centers like this. It’s someplace where dietitians can reach outpatients in a community setting—and patients can get the education they not only need, but deserve.”