Nourishing communities: Mobile nurses help people choose healthier options in southern Colorado grocery stores

March 13, 2024
UCHealth mobile nurses Kim Dodds and Jenifer Philson talk with Treena Johnson at a local grocery story in southern Colorado. Photo: Todd Seip, UCHealth.
From left, UCHealth mobile nurses Kim Dodds and Jan Philson talk with Treena Johnson at a local grocery store in southern Colorado. Photos by Todd Seip, UCHealth.

One of the best places to begin improving your health is at the grocery store. If you don’t bring home processed foods with empty calories, you won’t be tempted to gorge on them while binge-watching Netflix.

In southern Colorado, UCHealth Parkview Medical Center nurses Jan Philson and Kim Dodds aim to make southern Coloradans healthier by providing information and education about healthy eating and shopping.

On any given day, you can find them in the aisles of a local grocery store helping a patient who has been newly diagnosed with diabetes navigate healthier eating or a cardiac patient choose more vegetables, fruit and lean protein.

Outside grocery stores, the nurses collaborate with community members at convenient on-site screenings or flu vaccination clinics. Their focus includes blood pressure checks, lipid panel and cholesterol screenings, flu vaccines, COVID vaccines, bone density screenings, and early heart attack care.

The mobile nurses team offers health education programs, covering topics such as whole food plant-based nutrition, immune-boosting strategies, exercise, abstinence from smoking and alcohol consumption, stress management, quality sleep, and the significance of fostering a positive support network.

By spreading this message throughout communities, their aim is to promote health and wellness while preventing and even reversing chronic diseases. They provide community benefit in Pueblo, Fremont, Kiowa and Huerfano counties.

“We want to help people, and we want everyone to have the information they need to make better choices to improve their own lives,” said Dodds.

Mobile nurses in southern Colorado: how it started

 In 2015, Philson and Dodds took a course through Cornell University on nutrition education, and it was eye opening. Both became certified in plant-based nutrition, and it became the catalyst to launch the mobile nurse program.

(From left) UCHealth nurse Kim Dodds, Trena Johnson and Jan Philson at a local grocery store.
(From left) UCHealth nurse Kim Dodds, Trena Johnson and Jan Philson at a local grocery store.

“The curriculum was based on scientific and clinical information and was life changing for us. Since that point, we have made it a priority to educate our patients in healthy eating and healthy shopping. We could fill a library with all the resources we’ve acquired over the years.”

The mobile nurse team offers community-based healthy shopping tours at area grocery stores. Patients might be recommended by a physician or ask for a tour after meeting a mobile nurse at a community function.

“Sometimes we will have a doctor or surgeon contact us to help a patient get back on track to better eating following a medical procedure,” said Philson. “We’ve also had conversations in our mobile clinics with community members who need some extra help in shopping for food for specific medical conditions like diabetes or Crohn’s Disease.”

Mobile nurses share simple healthy shopping tips

Selecting the healthiest and most nutritious foods at a grocery store is essential to maintaining a balanced diet. The nurses are always happy to offer tips and ideas to help you make healthier choices.

“Shop the perimeter of the store,” said Dodds. “Generally, that’s where you will find the fresh produce, seasonal vegetables and lean proteins. Focus on filling your cart with items from these areas, as they tend to be less processed and healthier options.”

Philson offered this advice: “Shop the ‘rainbow’ and look for colorful fruits and vegetables. Red, yellow, green, purple. There’s a reason that these items are so colorful in nature, the vibrant colors represent the various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants beneficial to our nutritional health.”

Seasonal fruits and vegetables are often fresher, more flavorful and less expensive. Plus, buying seasonal produce supports local farmers and reduces environmental impact. Look around. You will find nearly every fruit or vegetable in season. If not fresh, look for frozen options.

The duo also recommends a diet rich in whole grains and fish. These foods are typically nutrient-dense and provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. And don’t be afraid to substitute lean protein sources such as beans, lentils and tofu. These options are lower in saturated fat and provide essential amino acids for muscle repair and growth.

mobile nurses in southern Colorado help people choose healthier choices while grocery shopping.“We want you to minimize your intake of processed foods like sugary snacks, sodas, and heavily processed meats,” said Philson. “These items are often high in unhealthy fats, salts, sugars, and additives, and offer little to no nutritional value.”

Always read the nutrition labels on packaged foods. Look for items with lower amounts of saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Also, check the ingredient list and aim for products with recognizable ingredients and fewer additives.

“Every bite counts,” said Dodds. “These few simple steps will get you on track to a healthier lifestyle.”

Mobile nurses make a difference in communities

Mobile nurses offer convenient on-site screenings and flu vaccination clinics to local businesses, and they collaborate with numerous local organizations across Pueblo and adjacent counties. Their goal is to encourage healthier habits and engage people at businesses, schools, farmer’s markets, churches, health fairs and community centers.

Last year, the team engaged more than 25,000 community members at businesses, farmer’s markets, senior centers, libraries and schools.

About the author

Born and raised in Pueblo, Colorado, Seip graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Southern Colorado and later obtained a master’s degree in education from Walden University in Maryland. After graduation, he started his career in the media industry, working as a news reporter, director and program manager at KCSJ Radio/Pueblo Broadcasters Inc. He then moved into the arts sector, working at the Sangre De Cristo Arts and Conference Center in Pueblo.

His passion for education led him to pursue a career in teaching, spending 20 years in Pueblo School District 70 teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), music and computer science. During the COVID-19 pandemic, he served as the public information officer and assistant director for the Pueblo School District 70 Department of Student Services. Currently, he serves as a communications specialist for UCHealth Parkview Medical Center.

Seip is married to Kerry, a music and STEM teacher in Pueblo School District 70, and is the proud father of two adopted children, both currently attending universities in Colorado.