March 28, 2008

Sweet Success in Improving Diabetes Care

By Jessica Nicholas

Project Dulce, a Whittier Institute for Diabetes at Scripps Hospital program, has been working to bring quality diabetes education to underserved, low-income, and ethnically diverse people in San Diego since 1997.

“Project Dulce is a wonderful program that helps people from various cultures manage their diabetes,” says Leticia Ocaña, the Manager of Health Education and Promotion for Project Dulce.

Diabetes is both a common and complicated disease. It is especially difficult for the patients because they have to manage their own care on a daily basis.

It is essential for someone diagnosed with Diabetes to learn about the disease so they can be able to take care of themselves and avoid the long-term complications, such as blindness, kidney problems, and nerve damage. Upon diagnosis, this can be an intimidating responsibility and this is when Project Dulce can help.

Project Dulce trains nurses, peer educators, and promotoras to educate their patients in ways that the patient can understand. After the patient is diagnosed, their primary doctor can refer them to the program.

“The Project Dulce staff is an incredibly dedicated team of professionals that genuinely care about the well being of each and every person,” says Ocaña. “We strive to understand where people are coming from.” This is clear through the way their program is designed.

While forming Project Dulce, staff researched what different ethnic groups needed in order to become better educated and manage their diabetes. Interviews and focused groups were conducted and Project Dulce encouraged people to share their concerns and opinions about the current state of their care. Project Dulce developed their program to address those concerns.

According to Ocaña, time is one of the most important things the program offers. While doctors may try to help their patients learn about the disease, many cannot because they simply lack the time. It is difficult to teach a patient how to care for their Diabetes in a 15-minute appointment. With Project Dulce, the first visit with a nurse lasts an hour to an hour and a half.

In addition to meeting with nurses, they offer classes taught in the patient’s own language. Through the classes, they address issues that apply to a specific community. For example, they discuss traditional foods for that community and how to prepare those foods in healthier ways.

The purpose is to teach patients how to care for themselves.

Although Project Dulce is located in La Jolla, staff make the appointments convenient for the patients. They set up in community clinics and peer educators travel to many different communities throughout San Diego County.

Because they are dedicated to their patients, they have had a lot of success in improving the health of those in the program. They have received many awards, including the “Border Model of Excellence” by the U.S. Mexico Border Health Commission and the American Diabetes Association Recognition.

While a majority of the clients they serve are Latino, they also offer services to Filipinos, African-Americans, and Vietnamese.

Their website offers a variety of free patient handouts that include information on how to check your blood sugar, prepare insulin, healthy eating, and much more. These handouts have been translated into Spanish, Arabic, Laotian, Somali, Chinese, Vietnamese, and Tagalog.

To learn more about Project Dulce, you can contact 1 (866) 791-8154 or visit and select ‘Project Dulce’ under Patient Programs.

Jessica Nicholas is an intern with the UC San Diego Comprehensive Research Center in Health Disparities (CRCHD) and is double majoring in Biology and International Studies at UCSD. The CRCHD is a partnership of organizations focusing on community minority health and health disparities research.

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