Working to Prevent Diabetes

By Erin Delmore

On World Diabetes Day, the goal is to screen 1 million individuals across the globe. Saint Peter’s Healthcare System is getting started right at home in New Brunswick, with an assist from the state health commissioner.

“Diabetes is preventable with early detection and good management,” said New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Cathleen Bennett.

Health care professionals offered blood tests and nutrition counseling to highlight the importance of early intervention and to raise awareness. They say one in two adults living with diabetes is undiagnosed.

“There’s probably about 30 percent of the people we do screen that do have abnormal findings and those nurses make it a connection and we follow back up with those individuals,” said Margaret Drozd, director of community mobile health services for Saint Peter’s University Hospital.

New cases of diabetes in the U.S. are actually on the decline, but public health officials warn the numbers are still high. While nearly 30 million Americans have the disease, close to three times as many have something called prediabetes — a condition that increases a person’s risk of type 2 diabetes, plus a slew of other chronic illnesses.

“Diabetes is a silent scourge,” said Ronald Rak, CEO of Saint Peter’s Healthcare System.

According to a 2015 survey by the New Jersey Department of Health more than 600,000 New Jerseyans are living with diabetes. That’s about 9 percent of the adult population.

“And that 9 percent is not just at risk for diabetes but also from the complications. That can be things like blindness, it can be kidney disease, it can even lead to death. And we know just in 2014 we had more than 250,000 deaths from diabetes as the leading cause on death certificates. So, when we talk about diabetes and its complications, there’s a reason why we are so concerned,” Bennett said.

Diabetes can lead to heart and kidney disease, blindness and nerve damage. Most diabetics develop high blood pressure. Patients at Saint Peter’s spoke about their daily struggle.

“My friends don’t really understand, like I’ll be sitting in school and when my blood sugar is high, it’s the worst feeling. I would rather be low. Feeling low is, really low is awful but sitting in school, my friends don’t really understand, my brain just goes blank. Honestly, it’s just a really bad feeling,” said patient Isabella Walsh.

The New Jersey Department of Health put nearly half a million dollars toward the cause by awarding grants to resource coordination centers, by enhancing access to electronic health records at federally qualified health centers and by promoting education through the statewide information call center and website.