Kentucky waging coordinated campaign against costly epidemic

Stewart Perry
Stewart Perry

By Stewart Perry and Bob Babbage

Kentuckians will mark World Diabetes Day Nov. 14 with a mixture of concern and celebration.

Concern because diabetes continues to be a major problem in our state:

■ The incidence of diabetes in Kentucky has tripled since 1995 and is fifth highest among the states.

■ Almost 1 in 5 Kentuckians has diabetes or prediabetes.

■ Diabetes costs Kentucky an estimated $4.8 billion a year in direct and indirect costs.

We celebrate because Kentucky is not shrinking from the challenge but is at the forefront of efforts to prevent the disease and care for those who have it.

Thanks to health care providers, political leaders and diabetes advocates and volunteers, Kentucky is a leader in addressing the diabetes epidemic.

In 2011 Kentucky became the first state to mandate development of a statewide, comprehensive diabetes action plan. The first Kentucky Diabetes Report was presented to the General Assembly in 2013 and will be updated every two years.

Two years later, Kentucky became the first state to license diabetes educators.

This year Kentucky passed Safe at School legislation which makes it easier for students to manage health care needs during school hours, provides that every school has trained personnel to assist students when necessary and assures that students with medical needs are not excluded from extracurricular activities.

Since Kentucky mandated a diabetes action plan in 2011, no fewer than 15 states have used Kentucky's legislation as a model for their's.

We can be proud of our efforts even as we recognize the severity of the challenge we face.

The theme for 2014 World Diabetes Day is Healthy Living and Diabetes. The Kentucky Diabetes Action Plan realistically portrays the impact of the disease on Kentuckians while giving plenty of attention to the importance of healthy living.

Kentucky's approach to developing the plan is why so many states are attempting to adopt the model. The legislation signed by Gov. Beshear in 2011 breaks down jurisdictional boundaries within state government and requires agencies to work together to develop a seamless plan.

The law requires the Department of Public Health, the Department for Medicaid Services, the Office of Health Policy and the state Personnel Cabinet to collaborate in developing and implementing the plan.

That may not seem extraordinary until you consider how diabetes and other chronic diseases inter-relate and that implementing a successful strategy for prevention and care involves a large and complex network of health-care providers, public and private agencies and private citizens, whether they suffer from the disease or not.

Adoption of the action plan marked a new beginning in Kentucky's war against the disease. It endeavors to mobilize all of Kentucky's resources in a coordinated effort. It expands diabetes prevention programs. It provides a framework for collecting and sharing data that can help Kentucky better understand patterns and disparities in treatment.

And it makes state government a key stakeholder in the plan's success by promoting prevention through the state employee health care plan and providing incentives to state workers who participate in prevention programs.

In short, Kentucky is not simply throwing money at the problem. The Diabetes Action Plan requires very little additional funding and seeks instead to redirect existing resources more effectively and efficiently.

The 2015 Kentucky Diabetes Report will give us our next look at where we may be succeeding and where we are coming up short in the war on diabetes.

As the world focuses on diabetes Nov. 14, let us be mindful and appreciative of the fact that Kentucky is at the forefront of those efforts. Let us be mindful and appreciative that we are recognized as a leader in diabetes prevention and that we are doing everything possible to improve the way we care for those who have diabetes and to prevent others from getting the disease.

For more information about World Diabetes Day visit the World Diabetes Federation's web site, www.idf.org.