Newswise — State leaders have the opportunity to reverse decades of deadly neglect of Black and Brown communities where diabetes and other chronic diseases have devastated lives and families, a crisis that has worsened through the COVID epidemic, heath providers and city leaders said outside Governor Cuomo’s office in Manhattan as they announced the kickoff of the New York Wellness Initiative on Monday. 

Even as diabetes-linked deaths skyrocketed an astonishing 356 percent in the first months of the pandemic, New York State and the federal governments cut all funding for cost-effective, evidenced-based community programming that helped vulnerable residents cut their blood glucose levels. While public insurance will cover the estimated $50,000 to $90,000 per year for diabetes-related dialysis, they will not cover the estimated $900 per patient cost of the community programs that helped residents of some of the city’s poorest communities reverse the impacts of chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity and kidney disease. 

Now that the state awaits as much as $13 billion in unrestricted federal stimulus finds, and sits on another $4.5 billion in unused funds from its Essential Plan covering health care for residents whose incomes are just above Medicaid limits, lawmakers in Albany have the opportunity to allocate at least $500 million, with the city allocating another $100 million, for preventive health programs that will more than pay for themselves with savings from widely improved health and less demand on the medical system. 

The New York Wellness Initiative is literally a proposal that will save countless lives and billions of public health tax dollars. 

“We need to completely understand that the decades of neglect to take logical and proven steps to reduce chronic disease greatly increased New York State’s deaths and complications during the Covid epidemic,” said Chris Norwood, Executive Director of Bronx-based Health People.  “Yet the widespread chronic illness that fueled Covid in New York is not necessary.  The New York Wellness Initiative community groups are launching will bring the best prevention and self-care strategies to stricken communities so they never go through this again.”

“New York State and New York City have not taken one step---in the full year of the pandemic ---to start logical, proven strategies to reduce the chronic diseases that fueled COVID-19 deaths and complications,” said Anthony Feliciano, the director of the Commission on the Public’s Health System. “Our Wellness Initiative, led by a local leadership of peer educators, community health workers, outreach people, Lifestyle Coaches, doulas, and other healing practitioners will build health block by block where government has failed to even try.”

“The National Black Leadership Commission on Health, Inc. urges leaders to provide funding for community-based organizations, with proven programs that address chronic diseases prevention and management in New York State,” said C. Virginia Fields, the founder and President of the Natikonal Black Leadership Commission on Health. “Programs that have demonstrated effective prevention education are a valuable tool in reducing the burden of chronic disease in New Yorkers, particularly those most vulnerable.  Funding must be made available to community-based organizations working on the ground.” 

Health People has provided proven self-case education to almost 2,000 Bronx residents in NYCHA developments, homeless shelters and at mental health programs helping people drive down their A1C levels, the standard measure of blood glucose linked to diabetes and other chronic diseases.  Studies during the pandemic have shown a direct relationship linking increasing A1C blood sugar levels to higher complications and mortality rates for those with chronic disease who contract COVID. 

The cost-effective community programs cut by the state and federal government as the pandemic took hold train residents with the diseases to train neighbors on steps that can lower their A1C levels and reverse their disease. Steps include a major focus on teaching about the benefits of a healthy plat-based diet, which face the added difficulty that many of these neighborhoods lack easy access fresh produce, and how to read food labels in order to cut out processed sugars.

“We know what works, which is helping people in vulnerable communities help themselves, if given the opportunity,” said Health People’s Norwood. “Investing in proven programs that can drive down blood glucose levels and chronic diseases will save thousands of lives and billions of public health tax dollars.”

Additional information on the programs that were cut, and the studies showing the link between A1C levels and higher complications and mortality for COVID patients with chronic diseases, is available at https://www.healthpeople.org/.