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Educator Battles Diabetes For Choctaws

March 28th, 2022

Lee Ann Griffin is a warrior for the Choctaw nation. Not the kind of warrior you’d imagine, Griffin RN, CDE (certified diabetes educator) battles diabetes, a disease whose numbers are growing. Her weapons are education, medical supplies such as glucometers and test strips to check blood sugar levels, medicine and lots of determination.

Oklahoma ranks second in the number of Native Americans or American Indians. People of Native American heritage have a higher risk of developing diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the largest ethnic group of diabetics in Oklahoma, 2000-2001, was the Native American population; 10.1% were diabetics. Also, in 2000 Oklahoma ranked 15th in the nation in deaths from diabetes.

Griffin, a member of the Choctaw Tribe, is a Community Diabetes Educator based out of the Choctaw Nation clinic in McAlester, Oklahoma. She is part of the Choctaw Diabetes Wellness Center, which is located in Talihina, Oklahoma. The Diabetes Wellness Center offers complete services for diabetics. The staff includes a physician who is board certified in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, a physician’s assistant, and a master’s level Nurse Practitioner. The Center also houses a fitness center with trainers who help participants with an individualized fitness program. Besides Griffin, the Diabetes Wellness Center employs four other Community Diabetes Educators.

Griffin has individual appointments with patients on Mondays at the McAlester clinic. She sees patients of all ages who have a CDIB (certificate of degree of Indian blood) card that shows membership in any recognized American Indian tribe. She also sees employees who make appointments.
“I’m proud that our employees get good care. In Talihina there is good attendance in the Employee Wellness Group.”

Griffin is delighted with the new, modern Choctaw Health Clinic, which replaced the old one in McAlester. “This clinic opened in July, 2007. We also have clinics in Stigler, Poteau, Broken Bow, Idabel Hugo, and a clinic opened in Atoka in 2008. Talihina is home to the hospital and the specialty clinics.”
Griffin has worked for the Choctaw Nation since 2001.

“One day I was handed a blank piece of paper and was told to plan a Diabetes Wellness Program. The program is funded by a federal grant and a matching grant from the Choctaw Nation.” Designing the program happened by trial and error. She saw diabetic patients and tried out different ideas to see which ones worked best. “We tried doing group sessions, but we had poor attendance, and the individual sessions worked better.”

Griffin took a national exam and received her credentials from the National Certification Board For Diabetes Educators to become a certified diabetes educator (CDE) in 2005. In order to take the exam, medical professionals such as doctors, registered nurses, clinical psychologists, optometrists, and certified dieticians must be employed in diabetes self-management for two years, have a minimum of 1,000 hours in diabetes self-management experience, and have current employment as a diabetes educator a minimum of four hours per week.

Griffin sees 2-6 patients per day. “We discuss nutrition, exercise, medications and complications in our sessions,” Griffin stated. Physicians refer most of her patients, but some patients make their own appointments.