For several months I have been on the planning committee for the Norfleet Forum, which is an annual meeting in Memphis of health care providers, to be held on November 13-14.
The Forum has taken on the challenge to reverse the epidemic of obesity and diabetes in the greater Memphis area.
“Why diabetes and obesity?” I asked the organizers.
The answer left me spellbound. Nearly one in 10 Memphians suffers from diabetes; two in 10 have pre-diabetes and six in 10 are overweight or obese which is the major risk factor for diabetes. Yet most Memphians have little knowledge or fear about diabetes and its complications.
Today, the Mid-South is experiencing an epidemic of diabetes. In the past ten years there has been a 33% increase in adults with diabetes, and it has become the sixth leading cause of death in Tennessee.
As the gravity of the problem and the complexity of the solution soon became apparent, I was convinced of the urgency to address and tackle this problem. But how was it to be done?
In previous forums, leaders and healthcare providers came together to listen to national speakers and then returned to their own work settings with no process, action plan or follow-up. This year we have engineered an innovative approach.
We still have national speakers to inform and inspire us. But now we have involved not just health care providers but the wider community. Leaders from businesses governments, insurance companies, social and charitable agencies, coalitions, media, churches, schools and clubs will work together in break-out sessions to develop an action plan.
Groups will address broad questions such as “what actions can providers take to raise the level of community awareness of diabetes and obesity?” They will also discuss specific questions such as “what actions can providers take to encourage and support businesses in promoting and rewarding early screening for diabetes?”
The action plans may be simple, such as physician groups and hospitals following a common protocol so that all patients get weight related education and good diabetes care. Some action plans may be complex such as schools, employers and insurance companies offering tangible incentives for people to exercise 30 minutes a day. One Memphis employer is already piloting a program of offering extra time off if employees participate in an exercise program.
Action items from all the Norfleet Forum groups will then serve as recommendations to a newly formed organization called the Healthy Memphis Common Table, which is a “coalition of coalitions” composed of and supported by hospitals, employers, government, individuals, and community organizations.
This year the purpose of the Norfleet Forum is as much about the content as the process. What I mean by this is – if we put the right systems and right processes in place to make our city healthier then over time we can develop solutions to reverse the epidemic of diabetes and obesity as well as other health problems.