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Liliana Rosselli-Risal mixes salad ingredients during a meal demo for her patients during a recent Comunidad en Acción meeting.
Adding olives and home-made dressing to the bright kale salad in front of her, Liliana Rosselli-Risal, MD, explained the health benefits of each ingredient to a room full of patients in the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center's Health Promotion Center. This is just one component of Comunidad en Acción, a program Rosselli-Risal founded a year ago that educates Spanish-speaking diabetic and pre-diabetic patients about healthy living.
"I really want to empower the Latino community," said Rosselli-Risal, who received her medical degree in her native Columbia and has practiced at the center for nearly 15 years. "I want to let them know they have somewhere they can go."
Comunidad en Acción was sparked by Rosselli-Risal's interest in combating obesity in her community. She noticed her Spanish-speaking patients needed extra assistance navigating the health care system, communicating with providers and specialists, and understanding their health needs and risks. After receiving a grant from the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers last summer, Rosselli-Risal created the program, which meets every Thursday afternoon.
Each session, which is conducted entirely in Spanish, consists of an educational portion that teaches patients about various health topics-from nutrition and the importance of exercise to healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Rosselli-Risal has also invited others to speak with the group, including a psychologist, diabetes nurse specialist, nutritionist and Zumba dance instructor. This classroom time is followed by a healthy meal demonstration, after which patients enjoy the meal and socialize together. Following the meeting, many participants head over to an afternoon Zumba class, held down the hall in the Health Promotion Center.
The program has had a major impact on participants, improving everything from weight and blood pressure to confidence and a sense of community. Comunidad en Acción boasts 70 active participants, with 20 to 30 attending each week. Patients who have attended more than 10 sessions have achieved the most weight loss, lowered rates of depression and increased self-esteem, says Rosselli-Risal. The program has secured funding for a second year through a grant and is looking for ways to keep the program going for additional years.
"I was depressed, but coming here changed my life," said patient and program participant Mario Lopez. "I have friends and support now that I can go to."
Motivated to help her patients live healthier, happier lives, Rosselli-Risal convenes the program during holiday weeks, and has even undergone Zumba and Weight Watchers certification to be able bring additional knowledge back to them.
"The program taught me how to eat, how to strengthen my mind and how to live," said participant Luz Corporan.