Angela Kennedy named 2017 BBDC Diabetes Educator of the Year

Ask those fortunate enough to have worked with and for Angela Kennedy at Michael Garron Hospital (formerly Toronto East General Hospital) over the past 50 years and there are no shortage of superlatives.  Words like trailblazer, innovator, compassionate, and a determined advocate for patient-centred care are common.

Far more than a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Educator, she is viewed as a fearless leader and mentor, always looking for new strategies to enhance patient care.

After working across medical, surgical and critical care areas, Angela was motivated to understand how to practically resource and raise self-care efficacy for patients with diabetes, and in the 1980’s became the very first Diabetes Educator Nurse at the hospital where she has spent her entire career.

In the 1990’s Angela was the driving force behind Toronto’s first hospital/community diabetes partnership. Through her guidance, the Diabetes Education Community Network of East Toronto was able to secure $137,000 of funding for delivering education programs for people with Type 2 diabetes.

The model has thrived and resulted in six community diabetes sites across Toronto’s east end. Kennedy’s efforts have mentored many new Diabetes Educators and helped inspire similar community partnership models that have since been successfully adopted across Ontario. “I’m really happy that this has grown, and become the model being used across the province now, with a team consisting of a Diabetes Educator and Registered Dietitian for ongoing follow-ups and patient support,” says Kennedy.

Other accomplishments include organizing the first Community Diabetes Educators’ Network in Toronto to help resource community-located Diabetes Educators and provide a robust network of support.

In the hospital, Angela fought for, and successfully launched the first inpatient diabetes education consult service.  She was recently recognized as the longest serving hospital employee, all while raising seven children; a remarkable accomplishment.

When asked what inspired Angela to follow her career path, she recalls working in ambulatory care, in plastics, surgery and eye clinics. In all of those areas there was a high prevalence of patients with diabetes, it was the common thread. Their wounds would be treated in these clinics, but the diabetes would not.

Angela knew that they needed to take care of the diabetes and get patient blood sugars under control first, in order for the wounds to actually heal. Similarly, people would come into the eye clinic with retinopathy to have their eyes taken care of, but not the diabetes.

For this reason, she has always emphasized the need for greater cross-functional collaboration. “When a patient is newly diagnosed with diabetes, it is not unusual for them to have appointments with an emergency nurse and physician, an endocrinologist, dietitian, social worker, pharmacist, and a diabetes educator all in one month.”  So, it’s essential to improve the cycle of care to avoid patients falling through the cracks of the system.

Angela has a well-earned reputation for challenging the status quo and encouraging colleagues to embrace the philosophy of self-management for people with diabetes.  Transforming the mindset of diabetes education into a partnership with patients and their families.

Angela is a big advocate of proactive approaches. “Unfortunately, as the population with diabetes increases, and we have fewer resources, it makes sense to empower and educate Canadians to manage their own diabetes.  But, it’s not just about what foods you should eat and not eat, and exercise more, it goes far deeper than that,” she says.

“The old approach of guilt and compliance wasn’t working.  We need to be far more sensitive to the other facets of their life, their mental health too. If they are struggling to cope, they are stressed out or showing warning signs of depression, we need to address that problem first. Otherwise they aren’t going to care about diabetes management and we won’t see positive change.”

Kennedy stresses the need for examining root causes, looking beyond just blood sugars and viewing the patient holistically. Uncovering what may have contributed to their lifestyle and behaviour is just as important, rather than treating the symptoms.

Given ever increasing healthcare costs, it makes even more sense to focus more on prevention, before people deteriorate and develop far more serious diabetes complications.

The Diabetes Educator of the Year award was presented to Angela Kennedy by Dr. Phillip Segal on Thursday May 3, 2018 surrounded by her closest colleagues and family.

Click here to apply for the BBDC Diabetes Educator of the Year Award 2018.

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