It took time for 60-year-old Debra Owens to accept her diagnosis of diabetes. She heard horror stories of people losing life and limbs because of the disease, and she didn't want the same fate.
After accepting that she had the diabetes, she took action to fight it.
She started paying closer attention to what she ate. She eliminated sodas, ate kale salad every day and cut back on sweets. She started walking at Hamilton Place mall five days a week. She walked the top and bottom floors of the mall at least once, sometimes twice if her arthritis allowed it.
She's lost 20 pounds since January 2016.
Now, Owens is one of 60 diabetic patients at Volunteers in Medicine who will benefit from a new 21-day immersion program launched with a $35,000 grant from the CVS Health Foundation.
Volunteers In Medicine is one of 33 clinics across the country to receive the funding. The immersion program starts in June.
"At first I asked, 'How in the world could this happen?' I've always tried to eat healthy," says Owens. "Once I got over the shock, I decided I need to find out what to do to reverse it."
The grant provides Volunteers In Medicine with resources to help people manage or reverse diabetes, which affects how the body manages glucose, or blood sugar, levels.
The funding will be used to purchase lunch and dinner for patients for 21 days. They also will participate in nutrition and fitness classes, says VIM Executive Director Ashley Evans.
Volunteers In Medicine is partnering with PlantPure, a plant-based frozen-food company, to supply the meals. PlantPure meals include dishes like spaghetti with meatballs, Japanese vegetable curry, Creole beans with rice and African stew.
Evans says the grant is a major win for the free clinic, located next to the Eastgate branch of the Chattanooga Public Library.
The clinic treats patients with no health insurance. The majority of patients are below poverty and don't make enough money to purchase insurance through the Affordable Care Act. When they try, they're told they don't qualify for it and that they should apply for TennCare, but patients have to meet certain conditions to get TennCare, so although they are very low income, they still don't get health insurance, says Evans.
She said 1 in 6 people in this area have no health insurance.
"The whole time we've been here, we haven't had an ongoing, sustained wellness approach," says Evans. "We tend to see people who are very ill, who have not had access to medical care at all, so we are just combating their current conditions. This grant gives us opportunity to approach things from the front end and try to stop some things in their tracks."
Evans says she expects to see huge differences in patient's biometrics, weight, waist measurements and blood sugar levels. All those numbers tend to decrease on a plant-based diet. She also looks forward to patients seeing how diet affects their health and learning more about what foods they should eat.
Volunteers In Medicine treated more than 100 patients with diabetes through medication oversight, diet plans and quarterly education talks, according to VIM's news release.
The grant will fund a "Lifestyle Education Program To Address Diabetes." The program seeks to help prevent reverse and manage diabetes.
In 2016, VIM saw more than 5,000 patient visits valued at more than $2 million at clinic rate and more than $8 million at emergency room rates. The clinic, which opened in 2005, is privately funded by foundations, churches, individuals and businesses. The clinic treats patients who have no medical insurance and charges them nothing for medical care.
Owens says the clinic has been a life saver for her.
She worked nearly 20 years for BellSouth in Atlanta before getting laid off and losing her health insurance. She eventually returned to Chattanooga to care for her father, who has cancer. Project Access on Third Street in Chattanooga referred her to Volunteers In Medicine after she needed care for her own rheumatoid arthritis. Project Access is administered by the Chattanooga & Hamilton County Medical Society to determine if patients qualify for free medical care and then refers them to a facility within the network for the care they need.
Owens says the VIM staff always address her medical needs and treat her well while they do it.
"You know how you dread and say, 'Oh, I've got to go to the doctor today," says Owens. "When you get ready to go to Volunteers In Medicine, it's just a happy feeling because everybody is just so helpful. It's just a delightful place to go."
Contact Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.