Congresswoman Castor, USF Health host diabetes roundtable discussion

Henry Rodriguez, MD, clinical director of the USF Diabetes Center, joined U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor at USF recently to host a roundtable discussion by community experts and advocates taking action to treat and prevent diabetes.

The Oct. 12 event in the USF Student Marshall Center was conducted in collaboration with the Arthur Green Jr. Memorial Foundation, LIFT Health, Inc., and the American Diabetes Association (ADA).   It drew representatives from across the Tampa Bay area, including the USF College of Public Health, Tampa General Hospital, JDRF, the YMCA, Tampa Family Health Centers, and the Pinellas County Urban League

In a discussion moderated by Rep. Castor, the participants talked about the need to raise awareness about the growing epidemic and how they might work together more effectively to maximize resources for people with diabetes and prediabetes. In Florida, diabetes affects more than 2.3 million people in Florida, or 13 percent of the state’s population. The ADA estimates that people with diabetes have medical expenses 2.3 times higher than those without diabetes. The metabolic disease a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.

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Dr. Henry Rodriguez, clinical director of the USF Diabetes Center, joined U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor in a recent diabetes roundtable discussion that brought together community providers and advocates.

“Diabetes is very expensive,” said Rep. Castor, adding that the cost of diabetes care can cause financial havoc to the health care system and personal lives. “We need to fight for research so that USF and other places around the country have the funds they need to tackle this disease.”

Rep. Castor introduced Dr. Rodriguez as a member of the team headed by Dr. Jeffrey Krischer, the world’s top-funded National Institutes of Health principal investigator with a longstanding commitment to diabetes research. Dr. Krischer and his team are making powerful strides in organizing, coordinating and analyzing clinical trial data in type 1 diabetes and related autoimmune disorders, which can lead to advances in treatment and prevention.

“Diabetes is a club you don’t want to belong to,” said Dr. Rodriguez, who focuses on prevention and clinical management of type 1 diabetes through partnerships with primary care providers and research collaborators. “It’s critically important that we coordinate and collaborate across the spectrum in fighting this disease.”

Also at the discussion was Lena Young Green, whose husband Arthur died in police custody in 2014 after suffering an acute hypoglycemic episode. Green’s death led to a Florida law providing more training for law enforcement officers regarding how to recognize and respond to diabetic emergencies, in which a person’s symptoms can resemble those of someone who is intoxicated or impaired.  Also present was State Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa, who helped sponsor the legislation.

Roundtable participants spoke about the need to marshal and coordinate resources to help prevent Type 2 diabetes in children identified as prediabetic and to motivate patients and their families to use the tools they need to manage diabetes on a daily basis.

Janice Zgibor, PhD, an associate professor in the USF College of Public Health, who recently published a book on integrated diabetes care, challenged providers to “think outside the traditional medical model” in breaking down the barriers to effective diabetes treatment and prevention.

For example, it may work better to bring diabetes education to the patient at their primary care providers’ offices rather than refer patients out to other locations, Zgibor said. “People trust their primary care doctors and like that they don’t have to make extra appointments.”

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The roundtable drew representatives from across the Tampa Bay area, including the American Diabetes Association, JDRF, the YMCA, Tampa General Hospital, Tampa Family Health Centers, and the Pinellas County Urban League

Dan Vukmer, JD, senior associate vice president of network integration for USF Health, suggested the group may want to include representatives from managed care and health insurance plans, who have an vested interest in keeping a community healthy, in future discussions.

Pattye Sawyer-Hampton, MA, director of health initiatives for the Pinellas County Urban League, emphasized the importance of family support in helping people manage diabetes.

“When someone lives with diabetes, it affects everyone in their family,” she said. “The patient needs continual family support to eat right and exercise, monitor their blood sugar and keep doctor appointments.”

Rep. Castor concluded the gathering by outlining some action steps, including her intent to share with the diabetes roundtable participants information about federal grant funding available and how to apply and to reach out to primary care providers and health plans.

Photos by Ryan Noone, USF Communications & Marketing