In Merced County, 35.7 percent of hospitalized patients suffer from diabetes, making it the leading county in the Central Valley in diabetes prevalence and costs, according to a new study.
The study, conducted by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, found that among all hospitalized California patients age 35 or older, 31 percent had diabetes. Researchers explained that although diabetes may not have been the initial reason for the patients’ hospitalizations, it was listed as a diagnosis.
Researchers used hospital discharge records from 2011 to showcase the percent of hospitalizations of people with diabetes and the related costs.
Other counties with a high percentage of hospitalized diabetic patients include Solano, Yuba, Fresno and Sacramento. Imperial County leads the state, as 40.1 percent of its hospitalized patients have diabetes.
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And the disease adds to the state’s health care costs.
According to the study, diabetes adds $1.6 billion every year to hospitalization costs in California. The report explained that hospital stays for patients with diabetes cost nearly $2,200 more than for patients without diabetes. Study authors found that nearly $254 million of the costs are paid by Medi-Cal alone.
In Merced, the estimated additional costs for patients with diabetes is $11,569,800, according to the study.
“If you have diabetes, you are more likely to be hospitalized and your stay will cost more,” said Ying-Ying Meng, lead author of the study and researcher at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. “There is now overwhelming evidence to show that diabetes is devastating not just to patients and families but to the whole health care system.”
According to the report, diabetes cost the U.S. an estimated $245 billion in 2012 in direct medical costs and indirect cost from productivity loss.
The study also confirmed that minority groups are the most impacted. According to the research, of all Latino hospital patients in the state, 43.2 have diabetes. The research reported 39.3 percent of black hospital patients have diabetes, while Asian Americans followed closely at 38.7 percent.
However, that is something local hospitals were aware of. Lillian Sanchez, a community educator at Mercy Medical Center, said the rates are something hospitals in the Valley have been dealing with for years. “These numbers sound pretty accurate to me,” Sanchez said. “We know that diabetes is prevalent in our community, so this isn’t shocking to us at all.”
As a community educator, Sanchez’s job is to touch base with patients after they are discharged from the hospital. Sanchez lets patients know about some of the resources available for diabetics, such as diabetes management classes.
But she realizes that many people do not take advantage of what’s available for them.
“Our resources are underutilized and part of it might be because a lot of the patients that are discharged don’t have a primary care physician,” she said. “They don’t have a doctor that requires them to attend these classes or that pushes to seek additional help.”
Kennoris Bates, a registered dietitian and patient education program manager at Golden Valley Health Centers, said social and economic barriers are also key factors.
“In a community with a high unemployment rate and limited access to health care services, this is almost expected,” Bates said. “A lot of people just don’t know where to go for help.”
And even when people do know where to go for help, either because of conflicting time schedules or because of transportation, they don’t attend those diabetes workshops and nutrition classes, he said.
One of Bates’ biggest concerns is that many times people go years without knowing they have diabetes. That is because people don’t visit a doctor on a regular basis and because they do not recognize the symptoms, Bates explained.
Recently, Golden Valley Health Centers and Mercy Medical Center teamed up with the Merced County Public Health Department to start a Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, intended to provide people with the necessary tools in combating chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
According to Dr. Harold Goldstein, executive director at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, the study’s findings are tragic because 95 percent of diabetes cases are actually preventable.
“By reducing added sugar in our diets, increasing physical activity and making early diabetes screening a priority, we could significantly reduce diabetes cases and save billions of dollars in health care costs,” he said.
Bates said the first step anyone should take to prevent diabetes is establish a health care home and set up annual physical examinations. He also recommends eating a nutritious diet full of fruits, vegetable and whole grains.
Anyone interested in learning more about diabetes management classes can contact Mercy Education Center at (209) 564-4384 or Golden Valley Health Center’s Nutritional Services at (209) 385-5583.