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Highmark Foundation provides Columbia County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, Inc. with $79,000 grant to promote diabetes lifestyle changes

May 9, 2016 | Pittsburgh, Pa./Berwick, Pa.

Pittsburgh, Pa./Berwick, Pa. (May 9, 2016) — Columbia County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, Inc. (CCVIM) recently received a $79,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation to provide a "Healthy Living Through Better Choices" program. The program allows CCVIM to expand services to 23 percent of CCVIM’s patients who suffer from diabetes, diabetes and hypertension and patients identified as pre-diabetic. The funding from the Highmark Foundation will allow CCVIM to help patients make lifestyle changes in diet and exercise with weekly walking groups and yoga classes, as well as providing the "Dining With Diabetes" program of the Penn State Extension Service. By improving food choices and diets and by increasing exercise, diabetic and pre-diabetic patients can improve their health, decrease their need for medications and begin to take control of their health.

"Diabetes is a serious disease that can increase a person's risk of heart disease, vision loss, stroke, kidney failure, limb amputation and premature death. However, increased awareness and lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk that diabetes presents," said Highmark Foundation President Yvonne Cook. "The Highmark Foundation supports initiatives and programs aimed at improving community health. This grant is an example of how we do just that by working with local organizations to address important health care issues."

Through prior funding from the Highmark Foundation, CCVIM developed a case management protocol for working with patients who have one or more chronic conditions, including diabetes and hypertension. The protocol has proven to be successful with diabetics — getting patients to fill prescriptions, take medication and return to CCVIM for regular follow-up appointments. As a result of that protocol, 82 percent of CCVIM's diabetic patients take their medication regularly and keep their appointments.

Despite high compliance with medication and appointments, test results have shown only limited improvement as lifestyle choices in diet and exercise have not been addressed. Changing food and exercise decisions in even a small way does much to improve the health of diabetic/hypertensive patients. Research has shown that even a 10 to 15 pound weight loss is often enough to decrease levels of medication or even to prevent the development of diabetes in pre-diabetic patients.

CCVIM staff developed the "Healthy Living Through Better Choices" program with a specific focus on helping patients better control their diabetes/hypertension. In discussions during their appointments, CCVIM patients express understanding of the need for lifestyle changes and are receptive to the idea of diet and exercise improving their health, but rarely implement any changes once they leave. Many state that their good intentions are blocked by the complications of the daily challenge of survival, including access to affordable, healthy foods and exercise opportunities.

"One of the goals of CCVIM's work is to help our patients understand that they do have some control over their health and the chronic conditions that impact their lives." said Mark Diehl, CCVIM Director. "We believe that the close relationships that develop between our patients and our medical professionals and what patients learn through this program will give them the tools to make changes and take control of their lives."

CCVIM is focusing on diabetic and pre-diabetic patients due to the regional prevalence of the disease. The 2015 Geisinger Health Needs Assessment showed that three of the specific categories requiring improvement are related to diabetes: "Uncontrolled Diabetes," "Short Term Diabetic Complications," and "Lower Extremity Amputation among Diabetics." One of the categories needing improvement tracked chronic heart disease specifically related to hypertension. Additionally, the same study showed that Columbia County has the poorest ranking for Health Behaviors in Diet and Exercise of the five surrounding counties, as well as an extremely poor state ranking of 62 out of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania. In addition, the 2013 "Rural PA Counts" survey showed that a quarter of Columbia County residents report no exercise.

Additional support for the Highmark Foundation program comes from the United Way of Columbia County, which provided a grant to pay for eye exams. Vision problems are common with diabetic patients, and this grant will allow more patients to have eye exams and get glasses. The Berwick Area United Way also provided a grant to pay for additional research on the program to identify what works and why, as well as what may not have worked as well. Major support for CCVIM's operations comes from the Berwick Health and Wellness Fund of the Central Susquehanna Community Foundation.

About the Highmark Foundation

The Highmark Foundation is a private, charitable organization of Highmark Inc. that supports initiatives and programs aimed at improving community health. The Foundation's mission is to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for individuals who reside in the communities served by Highmark Inc. The Foundation strives to support evidence-based programs that impact multiple counties and work collaboratively to leverage additional funding to achieve replicable models. For more information, visit

About Columbia County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, Inc.

The Columbia County Volunteers in Medicine Clinic provides free health care for working people who meet our income guidelines and are not insured or cannot afford the deductibles and/or co-pays they may have to pay. The services provided include preventative care, health education, routine physicals, referrals for tests and services, referrals for chiropractic care, dental and eye exams and referrals for women's health care services. The PA Department of Health is at the Clinic on the second and fourth Fridays by appointment and provides vaccinations, medical testing and other services. Located in Mifflinville, PA, CCVIM served 708 patients in 2015 from the ten county area in north central Pennsylvania. Appointments are available by calling 570 752-1780. For more information, visit


David Misner
Highmark Health

Joy E. McGinnis