EASTON — In conjunction with National Diabetes Month in November, The Maryland Department of Health recently released its first Diabetes Action Plan, including intervention strategies for health care providers, stakeholders and individuals, to reduce diabetes.

“Our administration remains committed to ensuring that all Marylanders have the resources they need to lead healthy lives,” said Gov. Larry Hogan. “This innovative plan promotes greater coordination to enhance quality of life for Marylanders living with diabetes and ultimately to decrease the prevalence of this disease in our state.”

“I think that people recognize and understand the problem,” said Talbot County Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley. “You can make some significant changes in diabetes control.”

MDH officials announced the plan during the day-long Diabetes is Primary education conference for 200 physicians and health care professionals. It was organized by the Maryland Chapter of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) at the Hyatt Regency Inner Harbor in Baltimore.

“Nearly 45 percent of the adult population in Maryland has diabetes or pre-diabetes, and this disease is the sixth leading cause of death in our state,” said MDH Secretary Robert R. Neall. “But the good news is diabetes is generally preventable, and for those with the disease, it can be managed.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. In Maryland, 10.5 percent of adults have diabetes (nearly 500,000) and 34 percent have pre-diabetes (approximately 1.6 million). Maryland is consistently one of the 25 states with the highest diabetes prevalence rates.

Diabetes is a chronic disease occurring when a person’s blood glucose level is too high due to the body’s inability to properly absorb glucose. Pre-diabetes refers to the condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be diabetes.

“It is a major problem in this country,” Wadley said. “We are very concerned because we are now seeing all the complications of diabetes — how bad that can be on the health of our entire population, and the costs.”

Diabetes often leads to other diseases and serious disabilities. About 95 percent of diabetes in the United States is type two, which is preventable. Being overweight or obese is the most significant contributing factor in developing the disease.

In Maryland, diabetes disproportionately impacts specific populations based on income and education level, race and ethnicity, geographic location and access to healthcare. Other risk factors include poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and tobacco use.

Choptank Community Health is a large primary care provider in Caroline, Dorchester and Talbot counties and the surrounding areas. The health provider has been monitoring diabetes prevention and management for a number of years as a federally qualified health center, according to Susan Johnson, vice-president for Quality and Population Health at CCH.

“We have about 75% of our patients identified with diabetes as being what we call in control, and we think that that has a lot to do with our providers and our clinical staff paying attention to patients when they come into the office,” Johnson said. “We have point-of-care testing in the offices, which means when a patient comes in, we don’t have to send them out for lab work. We can prick their finger and tell them in the office right away how in control they are in the disease process.”

Mark Luckner, executive director of the state’s Community Health Resources Commission, said the commission will award grant funding to organizations that serve vulnerable populations and address the social determinants impacting diabetes.

“The commission fully supports implementation of Maryland’s Diabetes Action Plan,” Luckner said. “Diabetes impacts far too many individuals and families in our state. We look forward to bringing access to much-needed services and programming in underserved and at-risk communities and addressing the health inequities that are associated with diabetes.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, medical expenses for diabetes and its complications in Maryland exceed $4.9 billion a year, with another $2 billion in indirect costs from lost productivity.

Trish Rosenberry, director of Clinical and Ambulatory Services at University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, said that they currently have a new provider, Dr. Medha Satyarengga, in the center and two other providers including, Lisa Bronaugh, CRNP and Dr. Bayan Mesmar, who is presently on maternity leave.

Patients receive diabetes care from their providers in Chestertown, Denton and Easton, and UMSRH will start seeing patients in Cambridge in January. UMSRH’s providers and diabetes educators see about 900 patients each month

UMSRH also provides diabetes management education classes and support groups every month in Chestertown, Denton and Easton. Diabetes education nurses also work one-on-one with patients and speak to community groups on diabetes and pre-diabetes topics

“The Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology team will be meeting in January to review the plan in detail with our Population Health team to identify items including initiatives in progress that dovetail with state initiatives; new strategies recommended in the arenas of diabetes prevention, pre-diabetes and diabetes treatment; and ways to partner with community organizations, health departments, etc. to heighten public awareness,” Rosenberry said.

To read MDH’s Diabetes Action Plan, go to health.maryland.gov/diabetes-action-plan.

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