Dietitian Jessica Corwin, a community nutrition educator at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, prepares a One Dish Italian Skillet during her Farm to Fork Cooking Series class.
Dietitian Jessica Corwin, a community nutrition educator at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, prepares a One Dish Italian Skillet during her Farm to Fork Cooking Series class. She shares healthy eating strategies with clients such as Marian O’Gorman, who has made life-changing decisions in the past year thanks to the Core Health program offered by Healthier Communities. (Chris Clark | Spectrum Health Beat)

As Marian O’Gorman sat in the hospital, she realized it was time to make a change.

She had struggled for years to regain control of her health, but after returning home about a year ago from a particularly trying two-week hospital stay for an illness, she found herself ready to alter her course once and for all.

During her hospitalization, the Grand Rapids, Michigan, resident was diagnosed with cellulitis, a skin infection. Her kidneys also started shutting down.

In addition to being overweight, the 68-year-old suffers from high blood pressure, stage 3 kidney disease and venous insufficiency, a condition in which the veins in the legs don’t allow blood to go back to the heart.

She was scared during her hospital stay, realizing she could die.

Health begins to slip

Doctors diagnosed O’Gorman with diabetes about eight years ago, and a year later her husband died. After that, her health declined further and she began to gain weight.

She dieted over the years, and she even took diabetes education classes, but she always felt like the information didn’t stick with her.

This time, she was ready to try something different.

At the recommendation of her doctor, O’Gorman connected with Core Health, a program within Spectrum Health Healthier Communities.

She became determined to lose weight and keep it off. She had lost 20 pounds during her hospital stay, and she didn’t want to gain it back.

She wanted to remain healthy so she could help take care of her daughter who lives with her. And, instead of using the problems in her life as a reason to eat, O’Gorman said she wanted to live—the right way.

“I know I have to buckle down and do it right,” she said.

Core Health

Core Health is open to adults who have diabetes or heart failure, and who face some type of barrier to accessing health care.

Clients can get involved by a referral from a physician or a hospital, or they can join on their own. They pay nothing to participate; not even their health insurance company pays.

The program pairs patients with a multidisciplinary team that meets with them at home, said Bethany Swartz, supervisor of Core Health.

A community health worker meets with the client once or twice a month, and a registered nurse visits about every three months. A social worker also visits as needed.

Core Health helps about 300 to 350 people each year in Kent County and the Spectrum Health United Hospital and Spectrum Health Kelsey Hospital areas.

Although it’s considered a 12-month program, the duration can vary for each client. Depending on their circumstances, some people will need shorter involvement while others may need a longer period. 

Core Health also works to help clients establish relationships with their primary care physicians.

A large focus of the program involves educating clients about “right place care,” Swartz said. Clients might seek treatment in the emergency room, for instance, instead of visiting urgent care or their primary care office.

Ultimately, the program aims to empower clients so they can manage their health, Swartz said.

Never too late

When Core Health workers asked her about her motivation and goals, O’Gorman said she initially indicated she wanted to lose weight for good.

Swartz said the team starts with a “strength mindset,” focusing on the client’s strengths and then formulating the curriculum according to the client’s needs.

O’Gorman said she always knew she could gain control over her health, but it’s been helpful knowing she’s not alone in the battle.

“It came in my life at the right time,” she said.

She has seen substantial improvement since joining the program.

She goes for walks at least two to three times a week and watches a PBS program called “Sit and Be Fit” three times a week, 30 minutes at a time. She also attended diabetes education classes through Spectrum Health.

She’s eating healthier, too, and trying to stay away from sweets, although she still allows herself two treat days a week.

Through Core Health, O’Gorman has learned that people can eat healthy no matter their income level.

She has learned new ways to prepare fruits and vegetables, and she’s not eating any particular secret food to help her lose weight—she’s simply more focused on “right-sizing” her portions.

She has lost an additional 30 pounds in the Core Health program. She’s feeling happier in general, and she’s not depressed about her weight.

“Right now, I feel better than I have felt in years,” she said.

She’d still like to lose another 75 but she’s not putting any pressure on herself. She’s simply moving ahead at her own pace.

“I’m in a lull right now, but I’m determined not to give up,” she said.

As she continues her efforts, she has some advice to others: It is entirely possible to block out the temptations, and it helps to have people there cheering you on.

“Listen now,” she said. “No matter what age you are, it’s not too late to stop.