A Citizen Potawatomi Nation Health Services employee was named a 2024 Health Care Hero by an Oklahoma publication.

Katie Brown, MS, RDN/LD, CDCES, was among the 23 honorees at the March 28, 2024, event in Oklahoma City. Brown is the Diabetes Program coordinator for CPNHS.
The Health Care Heroes program recognizes individuals who go above and beyond to help make Oklahoma a healthier, safer and happier place to live and work, according to the Journal Record. Journal Record readers submit nominations. Journal Record newsroom staff choose the award winners.

Brown told the Journal Record she went into health care because she knew she “wanted a career that was meaningful, where the work was the reward, and that each day would be different. I wanted to know at the end of the day I had helped someone improve their quality of life while still having a healthy balance to be present in my homelife.”

Katie Brown, MS, RDN/LD, CDCES

A team award

Brown and her department colleagues attended the event. Although Health Care Heroes honors individuals, Brown said she felt like she represented the entire team.

“It was important to me that they were all there because even though I was named, I was representing everyone and what we’re doing here as a team because it’s definitely not a one-woman show,” she said. “It felt like our efforts and everything that we’re doing is paying off. It felt very validating that we are on the right path.”

The Diabetes Program has been offered at CPNHS for years, and the team all have prior experience that they combine with the latest technology to best serve their patients.

“Although diabetes has not changed, the way we manage diabetes is better today than it was even five years ago. Diabetes related mortality, incidence of diabetes related kidney failure and hospitalization for uncontrolled diabetes in American Indians and Alaska Natives have all significantly decreased,” she told the Journal Record.

The Diabetes Program staff feels fully supported by CPNHS, Brown said.

“I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of areas in both nutrition and diabetes and I am thankful for each job I have held as it has shaped me into the educator I am today. Finding an employer that values their employees and departments and places patient care at the forefront of each decision has been instrumental in the patient and program success I have had the opportunity to be a part of,” she said.

Patient-focused care

The program provides patient education through groups or individual sessions, nutrition education, cooking demonstrations, a diabetes technology program, medication assistance and foot care. The Building Education About Diabetes, or BEAD, is a five-session group program designed for those newly diagnosed or those who need a refresher course.

The wide range of services helps the department to tailor treatment to suit each patient’s needs, Brown said.

“We have staff that can spend hours on providing education and training, and we can provide that weekly follow up or however patients need that education and training. We’re also trained in how people receive education. Some of us are auditory learners, visual or hands on,” she said. “I think we are improving how we provide education and training and really assessing people’s readiness to change.”

Advances in diabetes education have produced some encouraging results. Brown said incidences of the disease’s most serious complications, including blindness and amputation, are decreasing.

“It does require a lifestyle change, and we definitely are seeing improved health outcomes from diabetes. That part is really encouraging because I think a lot of times, we just hear the worst and see the worst. But we have better therapies and better ways of checking our blood sugar and things like that,” she said.

In addition to education, new technology, such as continuous glucose monitors, has improved diabetes care. Many of these new advances are available through CPNHS.

“Those CGMs (Continuous Glucose Monitors) are changing the face of diabetes for sure. I said the one thing I want to see in my career is to have CGM completely replace finger sticks, because finger sticks hurt, it’s inconvenient, it’s messy and no one wants to deal with that,” Brown said. “It’s been really exciting to see how quickly CGMs are replacing those finger sticks. I am thankful that they are available here at CPN, because I know not all tribes or facilities are offering them.”

For those newly diagnosed with diabetes, Brown hopes to encourage them to seek care at CPN.

“My favorite part about my job is being their cheerleader and telling them that they can do it,” she said. “We have different classes, we can do one-on-one appointments or put you in a group. We’re always willing to meet you where you are. We don’t expect you to come in being a diabetes expert.”

Brown tells her patients it’s okay to not be perfect. Many patients will experience both good and bad days, she said, but the Diabetes Program staff is available to help.

“We are not going to tell you that you can’t eat your favorite food or do what you enjoy. We want to make diabetes work in your life. We understand that diabetes now is a part of your life, but we don’t want diabetes to be your whole life. We want to find that healthy balance,” she said.

Brown recalled meeting a new patient who feared the staff would only criticize how he managed his disease. She explained to the patient that the staff never treat their patients this way.

“I’m never going to tell you that you’re not working hard enough. That’s what I want to change about diabetes, that we will always have grace with our patients, and we’re never going to tell them they’re not doing good enough,” Brown said. “I want them to do well and I want them to feel well.”

To schedule an appointment with the Diabetes Education Department, call 405-214-5117 or visit cpn.news/diabetes.