SIOUX LOOKOUT — When diabetes educator Tudor Chirila starts work at 8 a.m., his first order of business is to check his emails and schedule for the day. Then he moves on to helping a half-dozen or more people live well despite their diabetes.
Chirila, who came from Toronto to the Meno Ya Win Health Centre a couple of years ago with a degree in kinesiology, says the patients he sees vary greatly by age from kids with Type 1 diabetes to seniors living with Type 2.
“Everybody kind of has different needs where diabetes is involved,” he says. “So we try our best to tailor (services) as much as we can to the individual.”
Diabetes is a medical condition characterized by the non-production or poor use of insulin, a hormone that’s supposed to regulate blood sugar. It affects millions of Canadians and is more common in First Nations than in non-Indigenous communities.
In appointments that usually last from 30 minutes to an hour, Chirila provides education, support and guidance to individuals living with diabetes or at risk for diabetes who come to the Meno Ya Win Diabetes Care program.
He is one of six team members in the hospital’s Diabetes Care program. Another three people work in the Centre for Complex Diabetes Care, which is for patients who need a little more attention due to vascular disease, kidney failure and other complications.
Chirila says there are never slow days for him and his teammates, though there are seasonal fluctuations.
“Nearing the holiday season, for example, makes it a little bit more challenging to see individuals both in terms of them not wanting to leave community they live in, which is understandable, but also the weather,” he says.
“If somebody has to fly (in from a First Nation) and then there’s a storm or the snow is bad and the plane can’t land, appointments get postponed or delayed or rescheduled and it just gets a little bit tricky around this time of the year.”
Diabetes is more common in the North than elsewhere in Ontario, and it’s particularly common in northern First Nation communities.
A 2022 Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority (SLFNHA) report says approximately 14 per cent of Sioux Lookout-area First Nations community members live with diabetes.
Diabetes is more prevalent in upper age groups. While only a small percentage of children in First Nation communities served by SLFNHA have the condition, more than 40 per cent of adults aged 60 and over do. The disease is more common among women than men.
Members of more than 30 First Nation communities can turn to the SLFNHA for help through its Community Health Worker (CHW) diabetes program.
Community health workers are laypersons who work on the front lines of health care. Their functions and responsibilities vary, but in the SLFNHA program their work is mainly to support people in diabetes prevention, management and care services.
Chirila points out that the Meno Ya Win program he works for also travels north for one-on-one meetings with diabetes patients in 30 First Nation communities.
“We try to travel for a week at a time once a month,” he says. “That can kind of fluctuate with weather and with, let’s say, COVID outbreaks in communities and things like that. But whatever patients we are unable to see in the hospital due to things like adverse weather … we try to kind of make up that difference by seeing them at home in their community.
“Generally speaking, we have pretty good turnout.”