Washington County health officials focusing on diabetes program

MARIETTA — Washington County Health Commissioner Dick Wittberg laid out a plan for the expansion of a health care initiative during the Washington County Commissioners meeting on Thursday.

The plan focuses on in-home health care management of high risk diabetes patients, he said.

“This program is for people who can’t manage their own health care,” Wittberg said.

The health department will hire five new employees who will visit the high risk patients to make sure they are doing what is prescribed by their doctors. This small effort has already shown positive results in the lives of the people that are currently in the program, he said.

“There’s been enormous success working with patients in the programs,” Wittberg said. “We’ve seen A1C (blood sugar level) scores drop two and a half points in just six months. Doctors want to give us more patients now.”

There are 30 people in the county currently enrolled in the program which could expand ten-fold if everything falls into place, he said.

Wittberg received funding for the expansion through a grant from Americorps, but he said he doesn’t want to depend on grant money forever. He is currently in discussion with United Health Care about reimbursement to the county for the program. However, that won’t be an immediate option because United Health Care will be working with doctors and the health department to determine the risk and cost reduction for each patient, Wittberg said.

Commissioner Rick Walters said he believes this will help reduce overall medical costs by keeping people from using emergency services.

“It should help with the flow through the ERs,” Walters said.

“The more money (United Health Care) saves, the more money they will put back in,” Wittberg said. “I believe they could see from a three-to-one to a four-to-one return.”

Wittberg said the initial success of the program wasn’t all about following doctor’s orders and taking medication on time.

“Basic human interaction plays a factor,” he said.

Wittberg said the program most likely won’t be a money maker for the county, but it shouldn’t be a drain either.

Walters said he thinks the program should expand for reasons other than just financial because some people didn’t have the socioeconomic background to understand their own health care process.

“It’s going to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves,” he said.