CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After nearly four years of absence from West Virginia, the American Diabetes Association will definitely come back in early 2013, an ADA official said this week.
"There's a lot of work to be done, so we're looking forward to being back," Lew Bartfield, ADA division vice president, told the Sunday Gazette-Mail.
"That's great news, welcome and timely," said Perry Bryant, director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care. "The ADA could have an enormous impact in West Virginia with all the public education they're capable of doing."
An estimated quarter-million West Virginians have diabetes. Another 125,000 state residents are nearly diabetic, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. The state ranks either first or third in the nation in diabetes, depending on the poll.
The ADA closed its office in the state in 2009 after West Virginia fundraising contributions failed to meet the organization's goals.
"This time, the ADA will approach West Virginia with a mission-service agenda rather than a fundraising agenda," Bartfield said.
"We'll take all the help we can get," said Krista Farley, education director for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department.
Farley is trying to set up diabetes education programs with limited resources in nine coalfield counties as part of the state's Community Transformation Grant program. "It's an overwhelming job." Similar efforts are going on in all 55 counties. "If we can add the ADA, with all its resources, to the team, that would be tremendous."
"It's great to see an association like this decide to concentrate on its mission," she said. "These organizations sometimes get so caught up in fundraising, their purpose gets lost. We very much welcome a mission-driven organization that recognizes what's happening to people here and knows the impact they can have on our state."
With its wealth of resources, the ADA could play a big role in helping pre-diabetic West Virginians recognize their symptoms and go to their doctor and avoid diabetes, Bryant said.
"The ADA could provide education programs for children, too," said Jennifer Honnaker, a longtime Huntington ADA volunteer who chaired the ADA's state leadership council when the West Virginia office closed. "That's where the greatest need is."
"West Virginia is one of the battleground states as far as health issues go," she said. "For the American Diabetes Association not to have a physical presence is a real loss to us and just embarrassing to the organization."
The poor economy caused the office to close, Bartfield said. During the past four years, the ADA has, on paper, served West Virginia from Lexington, Ky.
That didn't work well, he said.
"We have had a person in Lexington who was supposed to service West Virginia, but there really has not been any service.