Ten Years on the Road to Healthier Living
February 24, 2015
KidneyMobile® Health Screening Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary; Program Reinforces the Importance of Kidney Health to Communities, Volunteers & Health Professionals throughout Illinois
As the KidneyMobile begins its tenth year by kicking off the 2015 screening season on World Kidney Day in Humboldt Park, a neighborhood of Chicago, we look back and reflect on its incredible impact and the people in whom it has inspired change over the years.
For the past decade, the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois has been fulfilling its mission through the KidneyMobile program: to improve the health and well-being of people at risk for or affected by kidney disease through prevention, education and empowerment. By preventing kidney disease, educating those at risk, and empowering the public to take steps towards better health, the KidneyMobile has positively influenced the lives of thousands – screening participants, medical professionals and volunteers alike.
In 2005, the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois launched a comprehensive community health education and screening program known as the KidneyMobile. The KidneyMobile – a custom mobile unit containing tailored educational exhibits – travels throughout the state, offering education and free preventative screenings for diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease to Illinois’ medically underserved communities, and those considered most at-risk for developing the aforementioned diseases.
At the end of the 2014 screening season, the KidneyMobile reached an important milestone, having screened more than 42,000 individuals in Illinois to date. Not only has the program helped those 42,000 individuals detect and prevent the progression of kidney disease and its precursors, but it has also left a lasting and positive impact on local communities and volunteers.
What many people who come to KidneyMobile screenings do not realize is how common kidney disease is. Unfortunately, kidney disease has very few symptoms until it reaches advanced stages. Currently, 26 million American adults have kidney disease, and most are unaware. Untreated kidney disease can lead to end stage renal disease (ESRD) or kidney failure – meaning a life on dialysis or receiving a kidney transplant to survive.
“One in nine American adults is affected by kidney disease, so it is an important public health issue,” Tipu Puri, MD, PhD, and NKFI Professional Advisory Board Chair, said. “The problem is that for most people there are few symptoms until nearing kidney failure. You have to know about risk factors for kidney disease and get screened if you have one.”
With 1.1 million Illinoisans living with kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois plays a major role in preventing its onset and progression. On average, more than 80 percent of individuals who attend a screening have at least one abnormal test result. Additionally, 25 percent have had severely abnormal results that required immediate referral to care.
What sets the KidneyMobile program apart from other community health screenings is the individual follow up and connection to care. Each person with an abnormal test result receives a phone call from a National Kidney Foundation of Illinois staff member, several weeks after the screening, to ensure they have either completed follow-up tests with their doctor, or are connected to a doctor if they did not previously have a medical home. The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois team also connects individuals to much needed social support services, such as transportation to medical appointments, health insurance, assistance with paying bills, educational resources and more.
The two leading causes of kidney disease – high blood pressure and diabetes – are most prevalent among Hispanics/Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans and Alaska natives. The KidneyMobile specifically targets these populations when choosing screening locations, in order to reach the most at-risk individuals.
Because the KidneyMobile program serves a vulnerable population, many of the individuals served by the program are uninsured – despite the introduction of the Affordable Care Act – and do not have the resources to visit a doctor regularly. Without regular care, kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are left untreated, which can result in serious complications.
“One of the major purposes of the NKFI is to find the people that are at-risk for developing this disease,” Dr. Puri said. “It’s critically important that the NKFI screen people, so if they do have the disease, they can get treatment and their disease can be controlled. Even if the KidneyMobile can prevent one person from progressing to kidney failure, that’s a good thing.”
Barbara Voss, resident nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, Illinois, has volunteered with the KidneyMobile program since it first traveled to St. Joseph’s in 2007. Voss has witnessed firsthand the positive impact of the KidneyMobile program.
“If the KidneyMobile did not exist in the communities it does, the alternative for many of these people would be an emergency room,” Voss said. “These people don’t have insurance or regularly see a primary care doctor. That’s why early detection is so important.”
Since the program’s inception, the KidneyMobile has not only screened individuals for kidney disease, but it has fostered awareness, established community partnerships, and provided hope to at-risk individuals. One of the distinctive aspects of the KidneyMobile program is the presence of understanding nurse practitioners, nurses, nephrologists, doctors, and volunteers at each screening, who genuinely care about the communities they serve.
Voss explains that at the St. Joseph’s screening site, volunteers even donate stuffed animals to attendees.
“It helps bring people in and makes them feel comfortable, and also keeps the children occupied,” Voss said. “This is something unique that has generated a lot of word of mouth publicity. People value the authenticity of this program and its volunteers.”
Routine kidney disease screenings include a urinalysis, checking each individual’s blood pressure, blood sugar (as well as A1c for known diabetics or those at higher risk for diabetes), body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and a blood draw (for those most at risk for kidney disease). Additionally, participants engage in a private consultation with a medical professional to ensure he or she understands their test results. This not only gives the individual a sense of comprehension and comfort, but also fulfills the other facets of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois’ mission: education and empowerment. Through education, individuals can spread awareness of kidney disease risk factors to their family and friends, while empowering individuals is essential in providing at-risk populations with the ability to make informed health decisions.
Dr. Manuel Zavallos, who is a native Spanish speaker, assists the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois at many of the screenings with a high Spanish speaking population. Dr. Zevallos began volunteering with the KidneyMobile program in August 2013. He understands and emphasizes the importance of communicating effectively and forging relationships with patients.
“It is not only about drawing blood and making sure the kidneys are functioning well. It is also education,” Dr. Zavallos said. “My job here is to not only talk to them about numbers […] I give them advice, talk about lifestyle modification, and things they can do [to improve their health].”
This philosophy is just one of the factors that makes the KidneyMobile program effective and successful.
“I’ve noticed since the beginning of the KidneyMobile program, more and more people are aware of the two leading causes of kidney disease, which are uncontrolled high blood pressure and diabetes,” said National Kidney Foundation of Illinois’ Community Health Education and Volunteer Manager, Regina White. Ms. White has been working with the foundation for more than 18 years. “Many people [we’ve seen] have made a conscious effort to improve their health by controlling their blood pressure and blood glucose levels through diet, exercise, and seeing their doctor on a regular basis.”
The KidneyMobile has traveled to many of the same locations on several occasions, a constant reminder of the importance of kidney health in those communities. Voss recalls a woman who recently attended a KidneyMobile screening who, after the blood draw, discovered she was anemic. She was encouraged to follow up with her primary care doctor, and after more tests, found out that she had colon cancer. She said the KidneyMobile saved her life because of that initial blood test. Voss says this exemplifies the need to be proactive in regards to one’s health.
With an average of 60 screenings per year, the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois’ KidneyMobile screening program has motivated countless individuals to take their kidney health – and overall health – very seriously.
Many of the program’s volunteers have also been moved by their experiences, inspired to pursue careers in the medical field.
As part of her Master of Public Health program, Sakina Kazmi worked at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois over the course of nine months starting in the fall of 2013. While with the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, she played a central role in developing and implementing the KidneyMobile Outcomes Tracking Pilot Program. Ms. Kazmi, who is currently applying to medical school, said working at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois reinforced her interest in health behavior research and preventative health. Working with the foundation even influenced her to consider a career as a nephrologist – a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases.
“My experience with the KidneyMobile has changed and reinforced my passion,” Ms. Kazmi said. “After working at the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois, I started thinking a lot about where I want to apply [for school] and which medical field I want to go into. It has opened my mind to new options.”
Kidney disease is on the rise in the United States; conversely, the number of medical students going into the field of kidney disease (nephrology) is decreasing. The continuation of programs such as the KidneyMobile is vital to building awareness throughout the country. With one in three American adults at high risk for developing kidney disease in their lifetime, the need for nephrologists and volunteers for programs such as the KidneyMobile is critical.
“[The KidneyMobile program] is a gift we’ve been given,” Voss said. “It is important, lifesaving… it’s a great benefit to the community and I hope to keep it coming for a very long time.”
About the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois
The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois improves the health and well-being of people at risk for or affected by kidney disease through prevention, education and empowerment.