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Diabetes Hero2
• Nov 4, 2020

Program was able to pivot with impact of COVID-19 pandemic

Stan, a 45-year-old information technology manager from Wells, Maine, struggled with his weight for years, trying one diet after another only to watch the numbers on the scale climb again. He wanted to lose weight for many reasons, including reducing the risk of serious diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

He was able to break the cycle this year after enrolling in MaineHealth's Diabetes Prevention Program, which provides classes, support and materials to help participants lower their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and related health problems.

This yearlong program is given by MaineHealth, northern New England's largest non-profit health system. The group sessions focus on diet, exercise and other lifestyle changes from the Centers from Disease Control (CDC) guidance and other medical experts.

This program is not intended for those already diagnosed with diabetes as they would have specific recommendations from medical professionals for their individual situations.

While there are numerous programs that offer similar types of services, many are not able to participate because of significant costs. That's where MaineHealth differs because it is free to all state residents.

"Because it is no-cost, it eliminates a barrier," said Jade Wronowski, MaineHealth Training Specialist who is a coach for the programs. "Once they try it, people grow to enjoy it."

Diabetes is a serious and growing health problem in Maine. The state's diabetes rate reached 10.7 percent in 2018, more than triple the 3.5 percent recorded in 1996. One in three Maine adults are prediabetic, with higher-than-normal blood glucose levels that fall short of a diabetes diagnosis. This condition increases risk for developing the disease.

November is National Diabetes Month, a time when communities across the country team up to bring attention to diabetes.

The World Health Organization estimates that diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the world in 2016. It is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation. Any way to help prevent people from becoming diabetic will have widespread benefits.

Jade Wronowski, training coach for MainHealth, hiking in MaineJade Wronowski, training coach for MainHealth, hiking in Maine

"Our program can help people learn how to prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by many years," Jade said. "We can do that by teaching realistic goals for food and increasing physical activity."

This program is one of the beneficiaries of TD Charitable Foundation's $1 million grant for MaineHealth. The grant made by the TD Charitable Foundation aligns with the TD Ready Commitment, the bank's corporate citizenship program. This allows the bank to play an active role in improving society in areas where it can have the greatest impact, such as Better Health, by supporting programs designed around preventative care and increasing equal access to health care, no matter a person's zip code or economic status.

Stan started the program in January at a MaineHealth facility in Kennebunk, joining with a friend from work. He is thrilled with his own success as he recently neared his weight-loss goal, and his doctor said his blood work indicated his health has improved significantly.

TD grant helped MaineHealth with changes due to COVID-19

TD's financial support proved pivotal as the Coronavirus pandemic forced MaineHealth to shift from in-person classes in communities across Maine and one New Hampshire county to online Zoom sessions, noted Andrea Fletcher, program manager for the health system's diabetes and prediabetes programs.

“We had to move all of our classes from in person to online digital formats," she said. The shift required investments in technology and in staffing to provide support during classes and help participants navigate the move. Some had never participated in online learning or communication, she said.

MaineHealth had planned to establish a permanent remote offering for its prediabetes program in about 18 months and did it in four weeks instead, she explained. "COVID kind of lit the fire sooner."

By providing funding for the switch, TD Bank's Sheryl McQuade, Northern New England Regional President, noted that COVID-19 has made it necessary for health care providers to swiftly adapt to telehealth to provide patient care and education.

"TD is honored to support our trusted community partner MaineHealth to make sure the program can continue with online sessions, helping to keep our residents healthier, " Sheryl said.

Jade noted that the virtual setting has helped the program draw in a wider age range of participants and more people who were not able to meet in person because of their job demands. The program has expanded to 660 enrollees from 40 in the previous year.

Stan's group of 18 participants has continued to support each other online, meeting monthly and exchanging ideas between those sessions. One shared a low-fat bagel recipe and now half the class is making bagels, he said.

Jade notes the incredible satisfaction at seeing people succeed at the program.

"I watch them go through both the successes and the hardships," Jade said. "But they continued to come to class. I feel the collective force of people supporting each other. It's a fabulous thing to see."

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