CHAPMANVILLE, W.Va. -- A few weeks after Tim Harclerode started as chief operating officer at Logan Regional Medical Center, he picked up the newspaper and saw this headline: "Logan County: 6,000 diabetics and no diabetic education . . . yet."
"There it was on the front page: Logan County has the state's highest diabetes rate, but no programs to help people learn to control diabetes," Harclerode said. "I looked at that, and said to myself, 'Well, it's not going to stay that way. No way. We're getting out in front of this."
The next day, hospital officials contacted Shannon Meade, director of the county's Family Resource Network, and said Logan Regional wanted to join the effort to create a Logan Diabetes Coalition.
Harclerode and two of his staff members went to a diabetes coalition organizing meeting in Chapmanville on June 12. So did representatives of seven other organizations.
"I was so glad to see them all," Meade said. "This problem is too overwhelming for any one group to handle."
One indicator: In 2010, 39 percent of Logan County fifth-graders had high blood pressure, and 39 percent were obese, according to West Virginia University measurements. "Those children are at high risk of type 2 diabetes, which can be prevented by more physical activity and less consumption of things like soda pop," said Dr. Bill Neal, who directs the WVU project.
The Logan hospital is planning a "range of diabetes services for the public," Harclerode said last week. The coalition wants to help people prevent diabetes, as well as control it, he said. "We're in the infancy stage, but we plan to develop support groups and outreach groups and pull together a much broader effort for the public."
Logan County -- home of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin -- is at least the 13th West Virginia county to create a diabetes coalition. These coalitions are homegrown, fueled by the diabetes explosion. "You can just look around and see the problem growing," Meade said.
Diabetes has tripled in West Virginia in the past 25 years, following a tripling in obesity.
The Logan group is not waiting for the state to help them. On June 12, they brainstormed for three hours, talking about what they could do for kids who sit around texting all day, seniors who never exercise, and young mothers who put Coca-Cola in their babies' bottles. They inventoried Logan County's resources and talked about the need to fight the widespread notion that, "if your relatives have sugar, there's nothing you can do."
They targeted three groups: inactive children under 18 at risk because of obesity and high blood pressure; young parents who pass on junk food/sedentary habits to their kids; and diabetics or prediabetics over 55 who could run up huge medical bills unless they learn to control their diabetes.
They talked about the $2.7 million grant the Mingo County diabetes coalition recently received. "We could do a lot with a tenth of that," somebody said.
The brainstormers included people from the hospital, Coalfield Health Center, the United Mine Workers union, Automated Health Systems, the WVU Extension Service, Chapmanville government, and the Family Resource Network.
In July, the Logan County Chamber of Commerce and Southern Community College plan to join the group. "This affects us all," Meade said, "and we need to work together."
Diabetes already costs West Virginia more than a billion dollars a year, according to the American Diabetes Association. The ADA expects it to double between 2008 and 2018.
Don't expect funding from the state
Gina Wood, manager of the West Virginia Diabetes Prevention and Control program, came to the June meeting. It was the first coalition meeting she'd attended.
The state did not help the coalitions get started or give them money, although most are scrambling for funds. "They're not the state's projects," Wood said. Twelve counties got a small startup grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission. "They're ARC projects," she said.
The state Bureau of Public Health does not keep track of diabetes coalitions or services, Wood said, even though West Virginia leads the nation in diabetes, according to Gallup Healthways. "We don't have enough staff" to do that, Wood said.Counting Wood, the state diabetes program has only three employees. "We don't have the troops" to organize programs statewide, she said. "It would be wonderful if we did."
County coalitions should not expect funding from the state, Wood said last week. "The biggest part of our funding comes from the federal Centers for Disease Control, and they are strict about what we can and cannot spend the money on. We're not allowed to say, 'Hey, let's spend some money to work with county coalitions.'"
The state's CDC funds have already been cut by 10 percent, with more to come, Wood said. "It gets very frustrating."