Diabetes Pilot A National Model

    MUSKEGON — By uniting with local church congregations and a Florida medical supply company, Mercy General Health Partners is addressing two issues that can hinder a person’s ability to manage illness or disease.

    The first issue is the proper use of prescribed medications. The second is that disease sufferers understand their condition and how their lifestyle can affect it.

    In a partnership that kicks off Oct. 1, Mercy General will link its West Shore Health Network of 350 physicians and care providers with five local congregations.

    What they are setting out to do is identify and enroll diabetes patients in Muskegon County into a program designed to assure that they stick to their medication and diet regimen.

    Liberty Medical, the company with the television ads featuring actor Wilfred Brimley, will provide medications and medical supplies to The Community Health Initiative. It also will use its own extensive telephone network to regularly contact diabetes patients and keep their physicians updated on their condition and medication compliance.

    Those behind the initiative see the potential to broaden the program to assist people with other debilitating illnesses such as kidney disease, congestive heart failure and asthma. They also want to become a model for disease management that other care providers across the country may wish to emulate.

    “We believe that this new model will bring a whole new dimension of health care to Muskegon,” Mercy General’s President and CEO Roger Spoelman said.

    “We hope it will prove to be the norm to help people take control over their own health care and give them some assistance in doing that,” he said.

    “This is something that is definitely making a very positive impact on the lifestyle and the quality of life in the community.”

    The model that Mercy General, Liberty Medical and the five churches are putting in place, he believes, will help further transform medicine from a “sick care” industry responding to problems, to a true “health care” industry.

    By that Spoelman said he means an industry that works to keep people healthy or — if their health is poor — to manage their condition as best possible.

    Mercy General’s parent corporation, Detroit area-based Trinity Health, is “very interested in seeing how this works” and potentially putting the model to work at its other health systems and hospitals, he said.

    “We’ll widen this as best we can. We’re not going to keep this in our health system,” Spoelman said. “Our corporation is all about replication.”

    Liberty Medical, the nation’s largest provider of mail-order medications and medical supplies for people with chronic health problems, chose Muskegon for the pilot because of the area’s comparatively high rate of diabetes and the willingness of a local care provider — in this case Mercy General — and the participating churches to commit to the project.

    The connection between Liberty Medical and Muskegon comes via Bishop Nathaniel Wells of Holy Trinity Institutional Churches of God in Christ.

    Liberty Medical three years ago conducted a study for Churches of God in Christ to determine how many of the church’s 5.5 million members nationally have diabetes.

    Wells serves on the church’s national governing body.

    In conversations with Liberty Medical’s vice president, Readus Smith, Wells saw the opportunity for improving the treatment for diabetes patients in Muskegon, where the diabetes rate of 9.4 percent is well above both the state and national averages of about 7.8 percent.

    The incidence rate of the disease is higher for African Americans.

    Liberty Medical said it hopes to create greater understanding among diabetes patients about how they can manage their disease through strict compliance with the prescribed use of medications and lifestyle changes.

    To achieve that goal, Liberty Medical indicates it seeks to tap the large network of volunteers within the participating congregations — plus any other community organization that wishes to help out — to reach out to diabetes patients.

    “A lot of times there are people who don’t do things because they are just not aware,” Smith said. “We are going to do these things that are going to make things better for the end user.”

    He explained that includes training church volunteers to help people manage their condition and using church facilities to host health education classes such as cooking, dieting and exercise.

    Smith said that even as the program was in the planning stages, Liberty Medical was contacted by other hospitals and health systems across the country — in Chicago, Memphis, Long Island, Dallas and Seattle — about replicating the Muskegon pilot.

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