Eight years ago, when Memphian Josh Perry was diagnosed with diabetes, he checked into the hospital with a blood sugar level of 770.
"The doctors and nurses said they didn't know what to do with me," Perry says, "and that with a blood sugar level that high, I should be comatose or dead."
He remained hospitalized for three weeks, hooked up to an IV and unable to eat, until his condition stabilized. Since then, the 28-year-old has been hospitalized six times for diabetes-related complications.
Perry accepts responsibility for the complications but feels he received inadequate care from the local hospitals, primary care physicians, and diabetes clinics he visited for help.
"There's only so far you can go when talking with doctors, and they aren't doing anything to really help you," Perry says. "I feel like I'm getting the runaround."
Last week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded a $1 million grant to Healthy Memphis Common Table as part of its Aligning Forces for Quality initiative. The grant, which will be issued over a three-year period, should improve health care for Perry and others like him.
Memphis was initially chosen by the foundation for a pilot program in 2006 and awarded a $600,000 grant. Though more than $400,000 of that money remains, Memphis was chosen to receive the additional funding as part of a 14-community, $300 million, nationwide initiative.
Aligning Forces for Quality stems from a national report that exposed deficiencies in health care by geography and race. Diabetes and obesity rates in Memphis continue to exceed national averages. The overall rate for diabetes-related leg amputations in Memphis slightly exceeded the national average, but African-American diabetics in Memphis are six times more likely than their white counterparts to undergo amputation, according to the study.
The study also showed that only about 83 percent of diabetic Medicare patients in Memphis receive recommended blood screenings.
Healthy Memphis Common Table will use the funding to address three specific areas, including encouraging patients to take responsibility for their own health. The nonprofit already has created easy-to-read brochures that explain what to expect when going to a health-care provider, how to detect and prevent chronic diseases, and ways to take control of your own health care.
"We want people to know they have choices ... and what they can do to improve their health," says Denise Bollheimer, chair of Healthy Memphis Common Table. "It is everyone's responsibility."
The funding also will be used to review patient feedback and provide nurses and doctors with "report cards" of their performance.
Bollheimer says that if proper care is given from the beginning, there will be fewer patients like Perry. "Some people can't get care, don't know how, or don't have access to care due to lack of funds or transportation," Bollheimer says. "We hope to bring together the people who get care and give care."
The next phase of the initiative will assess the disparities in health care in Memphis and to study why those disparities exist.