Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois was among the sponsors of the American Diabetes Association’s annual Illinois State of Diabetes community event held Friday at Malcolm X College in Chicago.
The daylong forum offered free health information and resources to several hundred participants. It was held to raise awareness about the need for health equity for people with diabetes and prediabetes, while providing access to information and resources about the disease, which affects nearly 40 million people in the U.S.
“It’s very important to bring this event to this community,” says Erica Rooney, the American Diabetes Association’s central territory vice president. “There are certain places and demographic groups where the diabetes rates are massively alarming. That’s what this event is all about — to try to get people the help they need.”
Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death nationally and in Illinois, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Statewide, nearly 13% of adults have diabetes, but about 341,000 don’t know they have the condition. An estimated 3.6 million Illinoisans have prediabetes.
Diabetes can lead to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, blindness, kidney failure, dental disease and even amputations.
Meantime, health inequities may cause worse outcomes and a higher risk for diabetes and other diseases, undermining the well-being of underserved communities.
The event highlighted patients’ experiences with diabetes management and prevention education to improve their health and wellness. It gave patients and caretakers information on diabetes from health care leaders, providers, pharmacists, dentists and innovators.
One BCBSIL member from Chicago said she went to the event in search of information about dental services, and to get peace of mind. She found the BCBSIL booth where she spoke with Shonte Walker, a clinical operations unit manager for Medicaid, who explained the woman’s dental coverage. Then Julie Listenbee-Coward, a medical management specialist for Medicaid, offered her information about diabetes education and food programs available under her coverage.
“I wanted to make sure everything would be covered,” the member said, concerned about how having diabetes, plus untreated dental needs, could affect her health. “Somebody called me and told me about this event, and I decided to come.”
The forum also addressed the need for providers to build community trust, share clinical trial and other data and reinforce the importance of listening to patients to improve health outcomes.
Nancy Wohlhart, Medicaid president for BCBSIL, participated in “The Journey Continues” podcast of the National Kidney Foundation, which was recorded in front of an audience at the event.
State Medicaid programs across the U.S. have restarted eligibility checks after a pause during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Nancy urged Medicaid members to stay on top of their coverage and seek assistance at BCBSIL’s three Blue Door Neighborhood Center℠ locations in Chicago.
“We have centers where anyone can walk in and access help,” she said. “We’re very passionate about making sure everyone has access to good quality health care.”
Additionally, Dr. Dami Adeyemi, a Medicaid medical director for BCBSIL, participated on a panel that addressed barriers to diabetes care and education. He encouraged event participants to take advantage of resources available at the event and share what they find with their friends and family.
And Tonita Cheatham, BCBSIL executive director of communications and community relations, led a discussion with Dr. Ngozi Ezike, former Illinois Department of Public Health director and president and CEO Sinai Chicago. Ezike discussed the scale of diabetes in Illinois, particularly for those facing barriers to care.