A panel discussion at the Missouri state Capitol Tuesday focused on the heavy impact of diabetes on residents and the state economy.  Nearly 750,000 suffer from the disease and the cost to the state is approaching $5 billion a year.

Health Professionals gather at Missouri Capitol to discuss issues relating to diabetes

The event was organized by House Republican Patricia Pike of Adrian, who filed legislation this year to make November Missouri Diabetes Awareness Month.  The measure passed the House with unanimous support, but died in the state Senate.

Several health professionals involved with diabetes took part in the discussion.

Stephen Njenga with the Missouri Hospital Association said his organization conducted an analysis of Community Healthcare Needs Assessments that all hospitals are required to complete.  The analysis revealed that diabetes topped a list of the three biggest health issues across the state.

Njenga said the Hospital Association formed a study group to examine problems the disease presents.  “We’ve been able to hold several meetings,” said Njenga.  “We have a few focus groups, very specifically focusing on key areas, trying to understand what we have, what we don’t have, who we are missing on the table, in this journey of trying to help address the diabetes issues in Missouri.”

Richard Royer head’s the healthcare consulting group Primaris.  He chaired the panel discussion, noting his group works under a federal contract with Medicare to address a particular need of diabetes patients.

“We have a very specific and targeted goal as part of our current work,” said Royer.  “That is to enroll people to self-educate and self-manage the problem, because self-management is a significant part of being able to stay ahead of the game in diabetes.”

Royer said Primaris is largely assisting vulnerable minority groups – African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans – that are twice as likely as Caucasians to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Connie Kleinbeck is a registered nurse and the Inpatient Diabetes Educator for Truman Medical Center in Kansas City.  She says one of her biggest hurdle is helping diabetics, who have to closely monitor their blood-sugar levels, find healthy food choices.

“It’s amazing how many people don’t even understand how to cook, using a sugar substitute,” Kleinbeck said.  “They think that honey is good to use.  They don’t even realize that it’s a sugar.”

Kleinbeck also says finances are an issue for her patients at Truman Medical Center, which, as the leading safety net hospital in Missouri, provides a high level of uncompensated care to low income people.

House Republican Donna Lichtenegger of Jackson joined the panel discussion to offer her thoughts after 40 years working as a dental hygienist.  She says she can detect symptoms of diabetes by simply examining patients.

“We see our patients every six months,” said Lichtenegger.  “And within that six-month period of time, you might notice that, all of a sudden, the gums are bleeding more, all of a sudden there’s a loose tooth, things like that.  Those are indications that something is going on in the body.”

Lichtenegger says she plans to work with the Missouri Dental Hygiene Association to offer diabetes classes at regular meetings of the organization.

Representative Pike, who spearheaded to panel discussion, says the gathering was intended to bring stakeholders in diabetes treatment together.  “Certainly, one of our goals today was to invite different agencies and entities that work with diabetic care together, to network, and to exchange ideas, and just see what is really going on in the state already.”

Pike notes the idea for meeting evolved from a diabetes seminar she hosted with healthcare professionals in her district.  “From that, we brainstormed ideas of what we could do statewide.  And that developed into the legislation we carried last year, and in part, today’s event.”  Pike calls it a local conversation that grew statewide.  She plans to reintroduce her bill designating November as Diabetes Awareness Month.

An effort that wasn’t showcased during the panel discussion is a project known as Diabetes Self-Management Education and Support (DSMES).  Missouri is involved in the program, which offers patients instruction and assistance in the process of setting goals for nutrition, physical activity, check-ups, glucose monitoring and medication use.

DSMES is funded through the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.  Representative Pike supports the project in its focus on rural and under-served communities in Missouri, as well as the Medicare age population.