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May Partner Spotlight

Diabetes Educator Linda Haas Incorporates NDEP Resources in Outreach Efforts

Linda Haas

Linda Haas, Ph.C., R.N., C.D.E. is a former Washington State and National ADA Diabetes Educator of the Year who has written and lectured extensively about diabetes care. Ms. Haas served as an endocrinology clinical nurse specialist at the Seattle division of the VA Puget Sound Health Care System (formerly the Seattle VA when she started), where she helped veterans with diabetes manage their condition and served as a consultant to staff on diabetes management and self-management education. She is also a past president of the American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) and past president, Health Care and Education, for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). In 2013 she received AADE’s Living Legend Award.

Q. Where did you start your career in diabetes education and management, and what is the biggest difference you’ve seen in the field since then?

A. “I was a research nurse at the VA in Seattle (and) worked with endocrinologists. Meters had just come into being then, or the ability to test one’s blood sugar, and I really thought that was cool and allowed the person with diabetes to take over their management if they had appropriate education. And then I got more involved and went full time doing diabetes education and became an advanced practice nurse.”

Regarding the biggest changes in the field since then, Ms. Haas cited two:

“One is glucose monitoring, although it hasn’t fulfilled its promise because I don’t think people have been instructed what to do with the information. In fact, I gave a talk in ’86 that monitoring is a means to an end; not an end in and of itself, which is what I think a lot of people looked at it as, which was in error. The other big thing I think has happened is that providers are finally starting to realize that it’s really the patient who does everything and not the provider. And so helping people make changes in their behavior is probably one of the most important things providers can do. Because you can prescribe all you want, but if the patient doesn’t take it, it’s not going to work. I think providers are finally reaching a point to where they’re willing to turn over the management to the patient, but that’s been something educators have been preaching for a long, long time.”

Q. What do you think is the greatest challenge that diabetes educators face today, and what suggestions do you have on how they can address that challenge?

A. “I think the greatest challenge is responding to the changing healthcare system and figuring out where they fit in. My advice to them would be to get involved with primary care—make themselves known to primary care providers; let primary care providers know of their value.”

Follow-up: How could diabetes educators make themselves known to primary care providers?

“What I found very helpful was meeting with the nurses. Because particularly with medical homes, it’s really the nurses who are doing a lot of the work. And I mean RNs, not the Advanced Practice Nurses, although the latter are doing a lot, too. But they’re doing more management, and it’s the RNs who are doing the self-management education. So by working with the nurses and helping them, you can be a valuable resource.

Q. What was the most rewarding aspect of your work at the VA?

A. “Working with the patients. They’re just wonderful. And I truly believe that without them, we would not be here today because they’re the ones who preserved our freedom. They were just delightful to work with.”

From 2008-2012, Ms. Haas served as the Metabolic Syndrome/Diabetes Clinical Nurse Advisor in the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Nursing Services, which she also cited as a highlight of her career.

“The other thing that I found very rewarding was when I took the position with National Nursing Services and got to help advise on policy that would help staff and people with diabetes.”

Q. Are there certain NDEP resources that you have found most useful in your diabetes-education initiatives?

A. “I like the Diabetes Health Sense web resource that focuses on behavior change. And I use the slides all the time. I download them and incorporate them into my lectures.”

Q. What area of diabetes education and management do you think deserves greater attention?

A. “I really think the role of the patient within the family deserves more attention. I think the patient is the key person because he or she is the person with diabetes and the family is hopefully supportive.”

Follow-Up: Should there be greater attention on what families should be doing, or how the patient needs to educate the family?

“Both. And it’s not so much what they should be doing, but what they can be doing, because you don’t want to turn family members into diabetes police.”

As an example, Ms. Haas suggested discussions patients and families can have around healthy eating. She emphasized that people with diabetes don’t need to have special foods, but rather an understanding about eating well.

“We’re much less compulsive about saying, ‘You can’t have this’ or “You can’t have that,’ because you really can, you just have to work it into your overall meal plan.”

Follow-Up: What is your suggestion for the patient to help the family?

“Learning all they can, and bringing family members to classes and clinic visits to include the family members in everything that is going on.”

Q. As part of its new strategic plan, the NDEP is working to enhance its relationship with partners in clinical and community settings. How can these partner organizations benefit the most from NDEP resources?

A. “The materials are great, and they’re really evidence-based. I’ve worked on a couple, and we really had to follow what the evidence said. I think that is a huge advantage to those. Authors of these materials work very hard at keeping current and making changes when they need to be made, even though sometimes they’re painful.”

Q. Final thoughts?

A “I think NDEP is just an incredible organization and one that I look up to very much.”

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