Most Tuesday mornings, the Palestine Senior Activity Center in Kansas City is a pretty quiet place. But recently, high schoolers, community workers and seniors crowded the parking lot. Lots of curious neighbors peeked from porches and through the gates to see what the buzz was about.
With a cue from Lynn Miller of Palestine Missionary Baptist Church, a booming beat exploded from a PA system, and the parking lot crowd seemed to transform into a lockstep dance troupe.
Flash mobs have been used for everything from hawking phone services to proposing marriage. But Miller says she organized this one to help draw people’s attention to diabetes and how to prevent it.
“One of the easiest ways to exercise is to dance, ’cause you can do it anywhere!” Miller says. “You can do it by yourself. You can do it with a group.”
Miller’s event was no mere block party. She enlisted choreographer Christal Cadenhead to create an original line dance, and a Kansas City band called Project 71 wrote and recorded original music.
Health workers were recruited to direct dancers and onlookers to free diabetes prevention and management programs.
Miller and the center’s leader, Lori Smith, says that through this event, they wanted to send a message that no one has to face diabetes alone.
“Instead of us knowing that there’s this big white elephant in the room and playing like we don’t see it and trying to walk around it, what we’re trying to do is address it in a way that makes it palatable, so that even if you don’t know, we have easy ways for you to learn – free easy ways,” Miller says. “If you don’t know, we also have fun easy ways to provide information so you can start on the road to being healthy.”
Health experts say that around one in 8 people has diabetes and about 40 percent are at risk for it. UMKC Med School endocrinologist Betty Drees says community programs like the flash mob can do a lot to reduce the condition’s toll.
“The huge value of many of the programs is their deep connections in their community,” Drees says. “They know their communities. They’re out there. They’re working with people. They know who the thought leaders are. They know what the issues that the community members have that they work with.”
Drees, a former dean of the UMKC School of Medicine, is a founder of the Kansas City Diabetes Collaborative, which started this year with funding help from the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City and the Victor E. Speas Foundation.
The group is reaching out to community programs to make sure they have the most up-to-date scientific information about the disease and how to prevent and treat it.
They’re hoping to help doctors, too. Drees says many doctors like herself often don’t know about the community programs that can help their patients.
“As a clinical provider, it’s helpful to me to know what self-management programs are available,” Drees says. “What are the programs that are out there in the community where patients can take advantage of programs that are close to home?”
She says the group also aims to inform doctors about the barriers – like insurance rules – that can keep patients from getting the care they need.
“Do they have coverage for the kind of glucose monitoring they do?” Drees says. “Do they have coverage for some of the supplies that they may need? And that may vary from one insurance coverage to another insurance coverage.”
Drees says they want to create a seamless system that connects doctors and communities so that no one ends up missing out on needed diabetes care.
Back at the flash mob, as the dance winds down, some participants sign up for diabetes classes, while others laugh off their attempts to master the steps.
Former Kansas City Royals player John Mayberry, who is diabetic, says the dance reminded him of the disco moves that reigned when he played first base in Kansas City.
“You know, they did the bus stop about a hundred years ago,” Mayberry says. “I didn’t have it then, and I don’t have it now!”
But whether the dancers look good or not isn’t nearly as important to health experts as getting communities informed and thinking about diabetes. And if the diabetes collaborative works, there may be many more people taking steps to do just that.
Editor’s note: The Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City provides funding for Heartland Health Monitor.
Alex Smith is a reporter for KCUR, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @AlexSmithKCUR