Mission Message

Empowering People to Lead Healthier Lives

Two friends walking the Paul Bunyan Trail
Long-time friends Gayle Johnson and Phyllis Wikstrom lost a combined 146 pounds while participating in the National Diabetes Prevention Program – a lifestyle change program. Essentia supports these program offerings across our communities because of the powerful impact they can have on people’s health and well-being.

Best Friends Benefit from Diabetes Prevention Program

Every day, Essentia Health is making a healthy difference in people’s lives through efforts to prevent new cases of type 2 diabetes. This disease raises blood sugar levels and can lead to serious health conditions, such as stroke and blindness. While both genetics and lifestyle contribute to your risk of getting this disease, adopting new healthy habits can significantly reduce your risk.

A year ago, Gayle Johnson, 66, of Brainerd was struggling with her weight. She was also facing a prediabetes diagnosis and had high blood pressure. After seeing an ad for the National Diabetes Prevention Program – a lifestyle change program – in the local paper, she decided it was time to act. She called her long-time friend Phyllis Wikstrom, 71, of Baxter and asked if she’d accompany her on a yearlong journey to better health.

The National Diabetes Prevention Program empowers participants to lose weight, be more active and ultimately prevent prediabetes or type 2 diabetes. Crow Wing Energized, a grassroots movement backed by Essentia Health and the county, supports the program in the Brainerd Lakes area. Essentia also supports these program offerings across our organization’s service areas because of the powerful impact they can have on the health of our communities.

“We’re preventing problems before they happen,” says Kara Schaefer, community health educator for Crow Wing Energized, who also leads the program’s classes. “It’s a proven program that’s split into two sections – core classes for 16 consecutive weeks and then once a month for the remainder of the year. It goes beyond teaching healthy eating and exercise habits. You have a curriculum to encourage group talk and idea-sharing.” The program supported by Crow Wing Energized is also free for participants.

Classes include weigh-ins, where participants set incremental, individual goals. When Gayle started the class, she weighed 204 pounds. Throughout the last year, she’s lost 70 pounds, has cut her blood pressure in half and is no longer prediabetic. She’ll also tell you she’s gained confidence and has become more social, taking up group classes, such as line dancing and Zumba. “I love it,” she says.

Phyllis weighed 217 pounds during her first weigh-in and is down 76 pounds. She explains that she was eating healthy before but was eating too much. Now, she’s tracking – counting calories and sodium with the MyFitnessPal smartphone app and doing 10 miles a day on her recumbent bike. “It doesn’t take long to track,” says Phyllis. After losing weight, she also eliminated pain in one knee and is enjoying a new wardrobe. “It’s so fun getting back into clothes I haven’t been in forever,” she says.

Reflecting on their experience, both Phyllis and Gayle are glad they signed up. “The class taught us how to eat and have healthy lifestyles. You just need the mindset that you really want to do it,” says Phyllis. To anyone considering the program, Gayle adds, “Just do it. It changes everything.”

Caring for Our Colleagues

Essentia offers a wide range of healthy living resources to colleagues, such as access to the National Diabetes Prevention Program. Randy Riley, a registered nurse at Essentia Health-Sandstone, completed the yearlong lifestyle change program. Now, he encourages co-workers and patients to sign up.

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A New Kind of Annual Report

Essentia’s Mission Message shares our ongoing efforts in our communities. This quarterly online publication is a new approach to a traditional annual report.

To view our financial and community benefit numbers for the year ending June 30, 2019, please see our facts and figures page.

Facts & Figures