CHLPI Clinicians and Students Travel to New Jersey to Launch Report on Diabetes
by Kristie Gurley, JD’ 15, Harvard Law School
On Thursday, March 27, 2014, the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) hosted the New Jersey Diabetes Leadership Forum in Trenton, New Jersey, at the historic War Memorial. The Forum featured the public release of CHLPI’s 2014 New Jersey State Report: Providing Access to Healthy Solutions (PATHS) – An Analysis of New Jersey’s Opportunities to Enhance Prevention and Management of Type 2 Diabetes, a project funded by the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF). Legislators, state agency policymakers, and community leaders attended the event to learn about the findings and recommendations in the report and discuss priorities for moving forward. The Forum was successful in bringing together key advocates from both the primary prevention and health care sectors in an effort to address type 2 diabetes across the state.
Harvard Law Professor and Director of CHLPI Robert Greenwald opened the event with an introduction highlighting the importance of the report’s recommendations. “The fun begins after today,” Greenwald noted in encouraging participants to transform the report’s research into reform efforts. Patti Doykos, from the BMSF’s Together on Diabetes™ initiative, reiterated this message in her introduction to the day’s events.
Senator Stephen Sweeney, President of the New Jersey Senate, gave an opening address advocating for action on diabetes policy. “There are 700,000 people in New Jersey with diabetes. I’m one of them,” Sweeney told the audience. Sweeney shared his personal struggle in discovering he had type 2 diabetes and how the disease has been “very hard” for him to manage. Sweeney advocated for improved diabetes education and thanked Harvard Law School for participating in the development of diabetes solutions for the state of New Jersey. “I’m in your corner,” Sweeney told the audience.
Next, Christene DeWitt-Parker from the New Jersey Department of Education presented the perspective of schools coping with a high rate of diabetes among school-aged children. DeWitt-Parker discussed the importance of both diabetes management and prevention on school grounds. This address was followed by a presentation by report co-authors Amy Katzen and Allison Condra on the report’s findings. First, Condra discussed recommendations for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, including improvements to both economic and geographic access to healthy foods, healthy foods at schools, and improving the built environment to facilitate physical activity in communities. Second, Katzen discussed proposals for improving the treatment and management of the disease, including access to care and insurance coverage for needed services.
The Forum also featured two panels. The first panel was devoted to discussing the current initiatives and programs that different cities and counties within New Jersey have implemented to promote health and wellness. The panel featured:
- Charles Brown, Senior Research Specialist at the Vorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy;
- Kim Fortunato, Director of Campbell Healthy Communities at Campbell Soup Company;
- Elizabeth Reynoso, Food Policy Director for the City of Newark;
- Mark Humowiecki, General Counsel and Director of Government Affairs for the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers; and,
- Dr. Kemi Alli, Chief Medical Officer at the Henry J. Austin Health Center and Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Trenton Health Team.
The second panel addressed ideas for improving the prevention and treatment of diabetes by providing access to key services in New Jersey. This panel included:
- Darrin Anderson, State Deputy Director of the New Jersey Partnership for Healthy Kids and Associate Executive Director of the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance;
- Bill Lovett, Executive Director of the New Jersey YMCA State Alliance;
- Teresita Lawson, Clinical Pharmacist, and Dr. Rina Ramirez, Chief Medical Officer, at the Zufall Health Center; and,
- Fran Grabowski, Lead Diabetes Educator for the Camden Citywide Diabetes Collaborative and Program Manager at Cooper Diabetes Center.
Over lunch, Dr. Anthony Cannon discussed the economic impact of type 2 diabetes in New Jersey, calling for action to decrease these personal and societal costs of the disease.
The presentation of the NJ PATHS Report, panels on recommendations, and speaker addresses led to a Roundtable Discussion in which Forum participants could discuss these issues themselves. Approximately sixty individuals from community-based organizations participated in the Roundtable Discussion. Together, these community leaders praised the recommendations in the report and highlighted several broad themes, such as increasing collaboration and communication among activists, expanding the implementation of programs to increase consumption of healthy foods, and improving insurance coverage for prevention and management programs. Conversation about possible collaboration continued over a reception, where participants discussed the report further with the CHLPI authors and with each other.
Overall, the Forum was extremely successful in ensuring that the PATHS report serves its primary purpose—to provide a necessary resource for policymakers and community leaders in continuing their efforts to address type 2 diabetes in New Jersey. Diabetes advocates will be moving forward with the recommendations they identified as most important, and with the resources and detailed recommendations from the report, they have hope that they will be successful in reducing the type 2 diabetes epidemic in New Jersey.