Mozella Taylor knew she needed to get her health on track.
Her diabetes had spun out of control and nerve pain triggered an unshakable sensation of burning and numbness in her hands.
A deeply faithful woman, she called out to God for help.
“I have to give God the credit because I asked for Him to show me people around me who can tell me how to take better care of myself,” said Taylor, 65, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. “He sent me this young man.”
Enter William Jackson, a community health worker with the Spectrum Health Healthier Communities Core Health program.
For 10 years, the Core Health program has been sending health workers like Jackson into the community to help patients who face barriers to health care access.
Core Health is open to adults with diabetes, heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said Leyla Flores Morales, the program’s supervisor.
The program is completely free to participants. Not even the insurance company pays. Participants can join through a referral from their doctor or on their own.
The program’s clients meet in their own homes with a community health worker once or twice a month and a registered nurse every three months. The program typically lasts 12 months, although it can run shorter or longer depending on each client’s unique situation.
The goal: discover what is keeping clients from achieving optimal health—and help them conquer those obstacles.
The numbers game
Taylor, diagnosed with diabetes six years ago, joined Core Health in September 2018, after a nurse in her doctor’s office recommended it.
She has since lowered her A1C level from 10.3 to 7.2, a change Jackson calls “amazing.”
Taylor has also managed to keep her blood sugar levels consistently under 200 since joining the program.
During a recent visit, Jackson checked her blood sugar and got a reading of 130.
“I like that number,” he said with a smile.
The improvements came as a result of Taylor reducing her carbohydrate intake, taking her medications as directed, monitoring her blood sugar level regularly and working to be more active.
Jackson taught her how to read nutrition labels.
Taylor gave up apple juice, reluctantly, when Jackson told her how much it bumped her sugar level.
She also said goodbye to frequent stops at fast food restaurants.
“I don’t fry food as much as I used to and I cut out a lot of snacking,” Taylor said. “I learned I can make better choices with food.”
Still, she likes to joke that she’s not perfect.
And who is?
Switching from whole milk to 2% milk has been a struggle.
“I’m not looking for perfect,” Jackson said. “I’m looking for progress. … What you’re doing is really working. It shows that you’re taking this seriously. It takes a lot of discipline.”
When working with clients, Jackson tries to be honest and meet them where they are.
“As a community health worker, I am an educator, coach and advocate,” he said.
He told Taylor about his own struggles to eat healthier.
“I had to learn how to eat better and how to like eating better,” he said. “I have to practice what I preach. I wouldn’t say to do it if I didn’t believe it.”
Since she began participating in the Core Health program, Taylor said her grandchildren have told her, “You’re killing us with this health kick stuff.”
“They’re confused,” Jackson said with a laugh. “You’re going to do the exact opposite. You’re not going to kill them, you’re going to make them healthier. All that stuff—the fat, the sugar, the salt—it will literally kill you.”
Jackson urges Taylor and all his clients to advocate for themselves, even if it means being persistent in contacting health care providers and asking for what they need.
His role is not to take action for them, but rather be a guide.
“It’s about behavior change and putting you in charge of your own health,” he said.
Taylor still struggles with nerve pain.
Jackson has encouraged her to bring it up with her doctor.
“If the pain would leave, I would like that,” she said. “Even when I am hurting, I thank God for it, because He put me in a situation where I can tell someone when I’m hurting.”
To her, it’s all an answer to prayer.
“I tell everyone,” she said. “Prayer works.”